Commenting on the full return of schools and colleges on Monday, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

"Schools and colleges will welcome pupils and students back on Monday 8th March. Teachers, leaders and support staff have done a magnificent job simultaneously educating pupils remotely and in school. At all times education professionals have done everything they could to support and protect children and young people. Leaders have had to cope with government incompetence on a huge scale - from repeated versions of guidance to rescuing and operating a track and trace system. 

'Heads and teachers will be carefully planning the safest possible return - seeking to minimise transmission through masks, testing, ventilation, bubbles and seeking to avoid as much mixing as is possible in our overcrowded schools.

‘Secondary and post-16 leaders are struggling to obtain parental consent for the testing of pupils – the cornerstone of the Government’s plans for safe opening of secondary schools.  Schools are doing what they can to encourage take up - moving to an opt-out system is impractical with a system where tests are taken at home, so this really needs a bigger  ministerial push and an advertising effort. Ministers need to explain more about how taking the test can keep communities safe. The logistics of mass testing are already resulting in a de facto phased return in most secondary schools and colleges.  The Government should allow this to continue beyond the period necessary for the tests to be completed, in line with our call for a phased return until Easter.’

'Children and young people will be returning to schools and colleges in very different frames of mind. Some will be looking forward to seeing their friends. Others will be very anxious and nervous - particularly those who have not been able to engage fully in remote learning. Education recovery plans must address these differences and be understood to be a long term response to the pandemic. Education recovery funding will be needed for years to come.

'Students taking GCSE, A levels and vocational courses will face an anxious return to in-school teaching and learning. Their stress and anxiety about how they will be assessed and graded should have been completely unnecessary and would not have occurred if the Government had followed joint union advice and prepared a plan B if exams could not be taken. Gavin Williamson has to take responsibility for the foreseeable consequences of his inaction. Repeated pledges that exams would take place, in the middle of a pandemic, proved to be unachievable. Teachers, who now have 14 weeks in-school teaching with their exam classes, feel that they are carrying the can for ministerial incompetence.

'We all hope that this is the last lockdown. But government has not done enough to ensure this properly. Ministers had two months to make schools and colleges safer but failed to put the necessary measures in place to achieve this.  Whilst everyone hopes that things will go well, we are clear whose responsibility it will be if they do not  We will hold the Government to account."

ENDS

2021-038-NEU

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