Commenting following the publication of the Independent SAGE committee’s report “When should a school reopen?”, the National Education Union have called on the government to “draw back” from its commitment to reopen schools on 1st June.
The final report from Independent SAGE, a 12-strong committee chaired by the former Chief Scientific Adviser Sir David King, has concluded that it is not currently safe enough to reopen schools on 1st June and suggested that the government is not following the advice of its own scientists.
The report states that modelling data from the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (SAGE) shows the R increasing if schools reopen. It also notes that since the publication of its initial draft report last week, the government has increased the risks of a resurgence of COVID-19 cases by undermining its own messaging on social distancing.
The report, which was published in full today, was prepared following a public consultation with parents and teachers in association with the British Medical Journal and Mumsnet, and concludes:
We… believe that by going ahead with a general school reopening on June 1st, the government is not following the advice of its SAGE group and is risking a new surge in cases of COVID-19 in some communities.
Responding to the report, the National Education Union (NEU) drew attention to a survey of over 4,000 of their members which shows that safety guidelines are not being met in significant numbers of schools.
The NEU are therefore calling on the government to “draw back” from the “arbitrary date” of 1st June and look to reopen schools when the level of coronavirus cases has receded further.
Their survey of 4,016 members has found that there are persistent issues around measures to minimise the spread of COVID-19, including:
- 22% say that pupil numbers in the school have not been kept low enough to allow for proper social distancing
- 41% of members reported that their school does not have an adequate number of sinks for children to regularly wash their hands
- Almost a quarter (24%) said that hand sanitiser is not available in all classrooms or at entrance/exit points
- More than half of respondents say they have not been provided with appropriate PPE (personal protective equipment)
- 31% believe that the arrangements for cleaning their classroom are not sufficient
In light of these survey results, and the findings of the Independent SAGE report, the NEU believes the 1st June date for the phased reopening of schools is too soon and should be delayed.
NEU joint general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said:
This latest report casts yet more doubt and concern over the Prime Minister’s decision to press ahead with a June 1st wider opening for schools. The government’s primary duty should be to protect its people, but in England –unlike the rest of the UK – we are hurtling towards the further opening of schools before the scientific evidence says it is safe to do so.
This decision threatens not just the health of school communities but also of wider society, with the clear risk of a rise in the R rate. All the sacrifices that have been made to stay indoors and try to contain this virus could be thrown away in the pursuit of fulfilling an arbitrary promise to open schools more widely from June 1.
Our snapshot survey of 4,016 members, published today, shows that even with the current low pupil numbers in schools, significant problems with health and safety exist. Members speak of the inability to maintain social distancing, the lack of hand sanitiser, insufficient PPE and not enough sinks for hand washing. Come June 1 should government continue to press ahead with their plans, this will clearly get significantly worse.
We believe the right thing to do is to wait a couple of weeks for the level of coronavirus to recede further and for the test and track programme to become embedded. We must not take risks with the nation’s children, their parents or school staff.
We agree with Independent SAGE that the extent of the epidemic in Britain is greater than other European nations and that our school system is quite different. We have much larger class sizes in the UK and in England schools have much less support from local authorities.
No-one is saying go back when it is 100% safe, but with 37,460 people across the country having already lost their lives to Covid-19 the Prime Minister must accept his responsibilities to the country and draw back from this arbitrary date.