In a joint statement, education unions say prioritising vaccination for education staff is the best way to support national effort to reopen all settings.
Education organisations and teaching unions have said that staff working in early years settings, schools and colleges should be prioritised in phase two of the coronavirus vaccination programme.
The joint call comes as reports suggest that the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is recommending an age-based approach to the next stage of the vaccine rollout – rather than one based on occupation.
Previously it was suggested that key workers, including those working in the education sector, could be prioritised for vaccinations after the completion of phase one – which focused on vaccinating those deemed to be most at risk of serious illness or death from Covid-19.
Now, with nurseries, pre-schools and childminders in England asked to remain open to all families since the start of the year, and the government aiming to reopen schools and colleges as early as 8 March, the Early Years Alliance, National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), Association of Colleges (AoC), The National Education Union (NEU), NASUWT – The Teachers’ Union, Unison, GMB and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), are jointly calling on the Department for Health and Social Care and the JCVI to ensure that those working in the education sector are prioritised for the second phase of the vaccination rollout.
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, said: “It is unthinkable that having asked those in the early years sector to put their own health, and the wellbeing of their loved ones, at risk during lockdown, the government would even consider not ensuring that they are prioritised for the next phase of Covid-19. The vast majority of those working in the early years do not have the option to work from home – they are on the frontline every day caring for and educating young children who do not and cannot socially distance.
“With Covid cases in early years settings continuing to rise sharply, it is absolutely critical that all those working in nurseries, pre-schools and childminding settings, along with other education colleagues, are given the protection they need to continue doing their jobs as safely as possible.”
Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “If education really is a national priority then it is surely imperative that the staff in our schools and colleges are prioritised for vaccinations in the next phase of the rollout. They are expected to work in environments which are inherently busy and crowded and they deserve the reassurance of vaccinations as soon as possible. This is also very important in terms of continuity of education for children because it will help to minimise further disruption caused by Covid-related staff absence.”
Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretaries of the National Education Union said: “Education staff need to be vaccinated as top priority in Phase 2. They are in daily unavoidable close contact with students where social distancing is difficult and PPE partial. The focus on the oldest and most vulnerable in Phase 1 should be followed by a focus in Phase 2 on those whose work puts them at greater risk.”
Paul Whiteman, General Secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “We want to see all school staff prioritised for vaccination as soon as possible after the most vulnerable are protected. This would not just help protect those staff at work, as they are forced to take greater risks than those able to stay at home, it would also mean a more sustainable return to school for children in the longer term, with less disruption to education caused by absence and illness.”