The calls from the National Education Union come as schools in England, Wales and Northern Ireland prepare to reopen in the coming days and weeks.
The National Education Union (NEU), the UK’s largest teaching union, has called on the government to provide a ‘plan B’ on what to do if the COVID-19 infection rate spikes as a result of reopening schools.
The union has also suggested that more teachers should be employed by the government to enable schools to remain open and COVID-secure if infections begin to rise.
The NEU is suggesting using student teachers who have not yet found permanent positions, as well as a “mobilisation of supply staff” – and also says that UK schools need extra space.
This weekend, the beleaguered Education Secretary Gavin Williamson wrote in the Sunday Times seeking to reassure parents and students that schools are “ready for them” and that it was “more important than ever” to return to school after the summer holidays.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson also issued a plea to parents to send their children back to school, saying the risk of contracting coronavirus in schools was “very small” and that pupils faced greater harm by continuing to stay at home.
However, NEU joint general secretary Kevin Courtney accused the government of being “negligent in the extreme” in their determination to reopen schools in September.
He said: “School staff, parents and pupils are being sorely let down by government because of a lack of a Plan B and of ensuring robust track, trace and test is in place throughout the country.
“Government should be employing more teachers and seeking extra teaching spaces to allow education to continue in a Covid-secure manner if infections rise.
“This should include employment of student teachers who have finished their courses and not yet found jobs, as well as mobilisation of supply staff.”
The National Association of Headteachers (NAHT) joined the NEU’s call for a ‘plan B’. Paul Whiteman, NAHT general secretary, said: “We want to engage with government, we want some more advice from government about what to do if the pressure on R comes and what to do if we do need a plan B.
“It seems to be an act of heresy at the moment if you talk about wanting a plan B. It’s not defeatist to prepare for the worst whilst hoping for the best.
“If we do have to experience some form of shutdown going forward, we want to learn from what happened before when we had no time to prepare, and be prepared if it comes again.”
Many schoolchildren in England have not been in school since March, when schools were closed due to the coronavirus lockdown – except to look after vulnerable children and those of key workers.
Schools in Scotland reopened earlier this month, while schools in Northern Ireland will reopen next week. English and Welsh schools will then reopen in early September.