Union’s call comes as it welcomes the decision of Greenwich Council today to close all of its schools early and move to online learning ahead of the Christmas break amid rising numbers of COVID-19 cases.
The UK’s largest education union has today urged the government to do more to control the spread of coronavirus in schools. The intervention from the National Education Union – which represents more than 450,000 teachers, lecturers and school staff across the UK – came after it emerged London mayor Sadiq Khan has written to the prime minister to “consider asking schools and colleges to close early and re-open later in January, with extra resource provided to support online learning.”
Meanwhile, the London borough of Greenwich became the first in England to ask all schools to move learning online from Tuesday amid rising Covid cases. The council’s Labour leader Danny Thorpe has written to parents and headteachers saying the move is justified by the “extreme risk” of the virus.
The National Education Union said the decision by Greenwich Council was “very sensible” and urged other councils to make the same decision.
The focus on closing schools comes after data from the Office for National Statistics revealed last week that children in secondary schools have the highest rate of transmission than any other demographic group.
Sadiq Khan’s letter to the prime minister today calls for increased testing for secondary school students and staff, as well as providing more resources to support online learning.
Mr Khan writes: “The surge in coronavirus cases across our capital is deeply concerning. I am calling on the Government to urgently provide additional support to get the spread under control, save lives and livelihoods and ensure our NHS is not overwhelmed this winter.
“Increased testing is key to this, which is why I want to see regular asymptomatic testing extended to all those unable to work from home and to students and staff at London’s secondary schools, sixth-form college and FE colleges. With significant outbreaks among 10 to 19-year-olds, the Government must consider asking schools and colleges to close early and re-open later in January, with extra resource provided to support online learning.”
In response to Mr Khan’s letter and to the decision made by Greenwich Council, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: “The National Education Union is pleased that Sadiq Khan has written to the Prime Minister pointing out that the biggest spread of the virus is within education settings and calling on the Government to ask schools to close early for Christmas and re-open later and to provide extra resources for online learning.
“Sadiq Khan is a politician who is reading the science and standing up for education and protecting communities. He also calls for secondary pupils to have regular asymptomatic testing to keep down transmission in schools. These would be important steps forward.
“We strongly welcome the decision by Greenwich Council to urge all of its schools to close from Monday evening, to all except vulnerable children and the children of key workers. We urge other councils to take the same decision.
“The Government should have been planning for this weeks ago. They have now started to recognise the blindingly obvious fact that transmission is happening in schools and that this can spread to families. Much more is needed to control the virus in schools and to protect communities.”