Commenting on the Prime Minister’s announcement on changes to lockdown, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:
“We think that the announcement by the Government that schools may reopen from June 1 with reception and years 1 and 6 is nothing short of reckless.
Coronavirus continues to ravage communities in the UK and the rate of Covid-19 infection is still far too great for the wider opening of our schools.
A study published last week by the University of East Anglia suggested that school closures are the single most effective way of suppressing the spread of the virus.
If schools are to re-open, we need the Government to meet the five tests we have set to keep children, their families and our staff safe. (1)
There must be much lower numbers of Covid-19 cases, with extensive arrangements for testing and contact tracing to keep it that way. This test has manifestly not been met.
We must have a national plan for social distancing, hygiene, appropriate PPE and regular testing to ensure our schools and colleges don’t become hot spots for Covid-19. This test has manifestly not been met.
And there must be plans drawn up to protect vulnerable staff, or those who live with vulnerable people, to stop more educators or members of their families dying of this dreadful disease.
We are supported in this by nearly 400,000 staff and parents who have signed our petition to reopen schools only when it is safe. (2) And Parentkind, one of the largest parents’ groups in the UK, back our tests too. (3)
We have written three letters to the Government for the science around school reopening, to share the modelling it is using and discuss the concerns raised by our five tests. We have received no reply. (4)
If schools are re-opened to blatant breaches of health and safety, we will strongly support our members who take steps to protect their pupils, their colleagues and their families. The worst outcome of any wider re-opening of schools is a second spike of Covid-19 infection.
Our members care deeply about the children they teach – and no-one is more aware of the struggles faced by vulnerable pupils, or those from vulnerable families, than their teachers. If schools cannot safely re-open, we need other ways of supporting those children. For instance, the better weather gives us a chance for some education to take place outdoors, where children are least likely to pick up infection.
The NEU will survey its members immediately after the Prime Minister has spoken to gauge their reaction to this announcement.
We urge the Government to follow the example of the Welsh and Scottish governments who have made the decision not to re-open schools at this time.
Now is the time for Government to listen and do the right thing.”
(1) The National Education Union’s 5 Tests: https://neu.org.uk/press-releases/5-tests-government-before-schools-can-re-open
(2) Our petition is here: https://actionnetwork.org/forms/open-schools-when-it-is-safe
(3) Our joint letter with Parentkind is here: https://neu.org.uk/press-releases/neu-and-parentkind-write-gavin-williamson
(4) Our report on the Government’s failure to answer our questions was published yesterday: https://neu.org.uk/press-releases/coronavirus-pupils-and-schools
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