The National Education Union (NEU) has written to the prime minister asking for his reasons for keeping UK schools open when other countries are closing schools due to coronavirus.
Teaching union bosses have demanded more information from Boris Johnson regarding the risks associated with keeping schools open during the coronavirus pandemic. Concerns have been raised about the risks posed to school staff and parents, with the union saying: “It is very important that we understand what the increased rate of infection is for staff and parents if school remain open, including obviously for those with underlying health conditions themselves, or for those they care for.”
The NEU, the UK’s largest teaching union, has written to Boris Johnson demanding that he explain the decision not to close schools.
Teachers and parents are increasingly asking why the government is not shutting UK schools, especially following the government’s decision to ban mass gatherings.
The NEU’s letter comes after Ireland announced last week that schools would close for a fortnight in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. However, Mr Johnson has suggested that school closures could do “more harm than good”.
The letter, which is signed by the NEU’s Joint General Secretary’s Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, says:
Dear Prime Minister,
Every day we are getting increasing numbers of questions from teachers and support staff asking why the Westminster Government isn’t following the pattern of other countries in calling for periods of school closure.
Those questions are increasingly asking why schools aren’t closing if mass gatherings are to be suspended.
We all want to limit and delay the spread of the coronavirus and we do think medical advice and expert scientific advice is important in this regard.
But it is clear that such advice can have uncertainties, and that it could be crafted to target a variety of measures.
We now see that you may take legal powers to force schools to remain open even when heads and teachers think there is good reason to close.
In those circumstances we, as the leaders of the largest education union, believe that it is right for us to ask you for fuller disclosure of the models you have looked at, and to understand which measures you are targeting.
We do not have the medical expertise to know what the transmissibility is between children and staff in close quarters in classrooms – but your scientists will have made assumptions about that, together with some view of the certainty of those figures.
The letter comes after the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, said that schools are “one of the safest places” for children to be.
In a speech at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) conference last Friday, Mr Williamson said:
The chief medical officer has said the impact of closing schools on children’s education will be substantial, but the benefit to public health would not be.
The government is particularly mindful of the strain on public services like the NHS that would be caused by key workers having to stay home to look after their children as a result of school closures.