Education unions call on government to delay reopening schools

Education unions call on government to delay reopening schools

- in GMB, NEU, UNISON, Unite
school kids in playground

Eight major trade unions with members working in the education sector have published a joint statement calling on the government to “step back” from its plan for a phased reopening of schools on 1 June.

Trade unions that represent the rights of workers in the education sector met today to agree a joint position on the government’s plan to reopen schools on 1 June.

This week the government have taken steps to ease the coronavirus lockdown, with many businesses urged to reopen from today and workers who cannot work from home “actively encouraged” to return to the workplace.

Part of the government’s ‘roadmap’ and recovery strategy involves the phased reopening of schools, with some year groups expected to return to school on 1 June.

However, many school staff have voiced their concerns regarding school children returning – with question marks over how to ensure social distancing measures are enforced within schools.

Several unions representing education workers signalled their intention to get together yesterday evening to draw up a joint position. UNISON’s Head of Education and Local Government Jon Richards said on Twitter:

Today, the unions have issued a joint statement calling on the government to “step back” from reopening schools and have set out a list of tests and principles that should be met before schools return.

The joint statement, signed by the NEU, NAHT, Unite, UNISON, GMB, AEP, Prospect and NSEAD, reads:

We all want schools to re-open, but that should only happen when it is safe to do so. The government is showing a lack of understanding about the dangers of the spread of coronavirus within schools, and outwards from schools to parents, sibling and relatives, and to the wider community.

Uniquely, it appears, school staff will not be protected by social distancing rules. 15 children in a class, combined with their very young age, means that classrooms of 4 and 5-year olds could become sources of Covid-19 transmission and spread. While we know that children generally have mild symptoms, we do not know enough about whether they can transmit the disease to adults. We do not think that the government should be posing this level of risk to our society.

We call on the government to step back from the 1st June and work with us to create the conditions for a safe return to schools based on the principles and tests we have set out.

The principles and tests set out by the unions are:

  • Safety and welfare of pupils and staff as the paramount principle
  • No increase in pupil numbers until the full rollout of a national test and trace scheme
  • A national COVID-19 education task force with government, unions and education stakeholders to agree on statutory guidance for the safe reopening of schools
  • Consideration of the specific needs of vulnerable students and families facing economic disadvantage
  • Additional resources for enhanced school cleaning, PPE and risk assessments
  • Local autonomy to close schools where testing indicates clusters of new COVID-19 cases


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