The education union has reiterated its calls for teachers and other school staff to be given priority for Covid-19 vaccinations, as the government confirms schools will fully reopen on 8 March.
NASUWT, the teaching union, has repeated calls for school staff to have priority access to vaccinations – saying that vaccinating teachers and support staff is “key for post-lockdown recovery”.
The union says that it believes it is in the national interest for teachers and their colleagues to be prioritised for access to vaccines in order for all children to be able to return to school and avoid any further damaging disruption to their learning.
The Prime Minister today announced that all schools in England will be reopening for all pupils on 8 March, with schools able to decide a phased return during that week. To aid the return of pupils and limit the risk of Covid-19 transmission, there will be mass Covid testing in secondary schools – with parents being expected to carry out tests at home after three tests at school.
Home testing for secondary pupils will be twice weekly, but there is no testing planned yet for primary school pupils.
In response to the announcement, Dr Patrick Roach, General Secretary of the NASUWT, said: “The NASUWT believes it is in the national interest for the government to prioritise teachers and education staff for access to vaccination.
“The government has said that education is their priority for ending lockdown and that it is determined to avoid further lockdowns in the future. It is therefore essential that to keep our schools open, vaccination of education staff must be prioritised now.
“There has been overwhelming support from across the political spectrum for teachers and education staff to be made a priority, including from members of the Cabinet, and there is clearly capacity in the system for all teachers and education staff to be vaccinated rapidly if the political will is there to do so.
“It is deeply frustrating to hear reports from across the country of surplus vaccines being distributed randomly when teachers are expected to be working in circumstances in which social distancing is a near impossibility.
“After so many months of disruption to pupils learning, the focus must be on making schools and colleges covid secure so that when they do fully open to all pupils they can remain open.
“Prioritising education staff for access to vaccination is key to ensuring this happens and we can begin the recovery which young people deserve.
“We call on the Prime Minister to make access to vaccinations for education staff a priority in the Government’s decisions on the reopening of schools.”
Following the Prime Minister’s statement announcing the reopening of schools, other education unions have responded today.
The UK’s largest education union, the National Education Union (NEU), has criticised Boris Johnson for failing to “learn the lessons of his previous mistakes.”
NEU general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said: “Today’s announcement that all pupils will return to English schools on 8 March demonstrates, again, that Boris Johnson has, despite all his words of caution, failed to learn the lessons of his previous mistakes.
“Whilst cases of Covid infection are falling, along with hospitalisation rates, it remains the case, unfortunately, that cases are three times higher now than when schools re-opened last September. This fact, alone, should have induced caution rather than, in the words of Nadhim Zahawi an ‘ambitious’ school return which runs the risk of schools, once again, becoming, in the Prime Minister’s words on 4 January, ‘vector of transmission’ into the community. This risk is greatly elevated because of the new variants of Covid which are significantly more transmissive.
“Why has the English government not taken the same route as Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland whose cautious, phased approach to school opening will enable their governments to assess the impact a return to the classroom will have on the R rate and to make necessary adjustments to their plans.
“A ‘big bang’ school reopening brings 10 million people back into crowded buildings with no social distancing and inadequate ventilation. The wearing of face masks by pupils and staff in secondary school lessons is a welcome measure but it is not, on its own enough.”
UNISON, meanwhile, echoed the sentiments of NASUWT in calling for teachers to be vaccinated. UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “A cautious approach is the right way to balance getting the country moving again and limit virus spread. Its clear restrictions were relaxed too quickly last time and there can be no repeat mistakes.
“By ensuring staff are encouraged to have the vaccine by their employers and paid wages in full if they need to isolate, ministers can drive infection rates down even further.
“The government should also follow the lead of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland by applying that steady approach to schools with a phased reopening rather than going for broke. Along with toughening safety measures, that’s the way to keep staff, pupils and everyone else safe.”