The teaching union has called on ministers to convince staff and parents that it will be safe to start the new school year in September as fears grown of a ‘second wave’ of coronavirus.
The government’s plans to reopen all schools in September have been called into question by the head of NASUWT as well as leading scientists, amid signs that cases of COVID-19 are increasing again across the country.
Despite last week’s postponement of reopening bowling alleys, casinos and other venues, and new restrictions being imposed in parts of the north of England, ministers have insisted that the reopening of schools in England next month remains a top priority.
However, in a sign of growing concern about the strategy, NASUWT general secretary Patrick Roach has called on the government to take urgent action and provide “greater clarity” to teachers and parents regarding the safety of reopening schools.
Roach told the Observer newspaper yesterday: “In light of recent changes to plans for relaxing lockdown measures, the government needs to provide greater clarity to school leaders, teachers and parents about what this will mean for the reopening of schools in September.
“The warning from the chief medical officer (Chris Whitty) that a fine balance has to be struck in ensuring public health at this stage of the pandemic, and that the country may have reached the limits to the easing of lockdown, will no doubt prompt questions for many parents as well as for those working in schools.
“If schools are to reopen safely, the government will need to give them clarification about what they need to do to take account of the latest scientific evidence and advice, as well as sufficient time to review and, if necessary, adjust their reopening plans.”
Meanwhile, Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said that a link between closing schools and suppressing the spread of coronavirus had become clear.
He said: “The evidence is clear that schools are important in the spread of Covid-19. Our studies show that, across Europe, closing schools was the single factor most strongly associated with drops in infection rates.”
Hunter went on to say that, while the individual risks to children and teachers were probably low, the transmission of the virus in schools plays a pivotal role in increasing general infection rates. He said: “Would re-opening schools increase the spread of Covid-19 in the population? Yes. I think it would very probably do that.”