NEU launches campaign to include schools in national lockdown, as Unite raises concerns about school staff safety

NEU launches campaign to include schools in national lockdown, as Unite raises concerns about school staff safety

- in NEU, Unite
school kids in playground

The National Education Union has launched a campaign to include schools and colleges in the lockdown, amid fears of coronavirus transmission within schools.

The UK’s largest teaching union, the NEU, has launched a campaign calling on Parliament to include schools and colleges in the November lockdown, as well as for rotas to be introduced in schools at the end of the lockdown period.

The latest data from the ONS estimates that up to 1% of primary school pupils and 2% of secondary school pupils currently have coronavirus – a significant increase since the wider reopening of schools in September. This means that on any given day there could be two students with the virus in every three secondary school classes.

NEU’s analysis of the ONS data shows that COVID-19 levels are now nine times higher amongst primary school children and up to 50 times higher in secondary schools.

The union has said that the data shows that schools are an “engine for virus transmission” and believes the proposed national lockdown until 2 December will be more effective if schools and colleges were included.

Kevin Courtney, NEU joint general secretary said: “It is deeply worrying that the Prime Minister appears not to have learned from his mistakes. This government has been cutting corners and taking half measures on Covid, and a second lockdown is the result. They have failed heads, teachers, support staff, parents and pupils.

“The response to our call this weekend for school closures, shows that our concern is widely shared. The Government is failing our communities as well as our schools and colleges, and that is why we are seeking an amendment to Parliament’s lockdown bill. We have seen a fifty-fold increase in infections in secondary schools alone since September. Schools, clearly, are an engine for virus transmission.

“The lockdown would be much more effective in reducing virus levels if schools and colleges were a part of it. We have seen the huge support of our members behind our campaign and now it is time for Boris Johnson, Gavin Williamson and every other Member of Parliament to stand behind our education staff who are working so hard in the face of adversity to deliver the education our children and young people deserve.

“Schools and colleges should be in the lockdown and the government should use that four-week period to improve test, track, trace, and to plan for the introduction of rota operation at least in secondary and sixth form settings.”

As part of it’s #PutSchoolsInTheLockdown campaign, the NEU has launched a tool to allow parents, school staff and others to directly email their local MP or members of the cabinet to ask them to include schools and colleges in the lockdown.

The union is also planning to launch a smartphone app as part of the campaign. The new ‘Escalation App’ will be made available to the union’s almost half a million members and include a step-by-step guide to get individual schools to close due to COVID-related safety fears.

The new app will help teacher’s and school staff to go through a checklist, including whether there has been a positive case of COVID-19 in the school and which year group “bubble” is affected. The app will then direct users to a five-step “escalation” process – which ranges from discussing the COVID cases with fellow members to meeting with the headteacher and requesting further support from the union.

Unite threatens strike action if school support staff are not “fully protected”

Unite the Union has also raised its concerns with schools remaining open, calling for the government to make sure school support staff are protected and that “no shortcuts are taken with their safety” during the lockdown.

Unite has said in a statement: “While Unite fully understands the importance of all children being able to access education, the safety of members must not be compromised.

“If serious safety concerns are identified and immediate action is not taken to remedy them, then Unite will instruct staff to exercise their legal right to withdraw their work until safety measures are fully instigated.”

Unite is calling for all schools to apply the following measures:

  • Funding for full and adequate PPE
  • Adequate resources provided to clean and maintain schools to ensure a Covid safe learning and working environment
  • Regularly updated risk assessments, that staff can access and are consulted on
  • Social distancing at all times even if this means smaller class sizes
  • Strict safeguards to ensure vulnerable staff e.g. pregnant women, clinically extremely vulnerable and higher risk groups including BAEM, are fully protected
  • Access to testing
  • Transparency of available data on risks to children, families and school staff
  • A plan for remote learning and government-funded resources such as laptops for children learning at home
  • All contracted staff working to support schools guaranteed normal pay if self-isolating or absent for Covid related reasons
  • School nurses to remain in dedicated roles to support whole school communities

Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “School staff are feeling incredibly vulnerable and believe their legitimate concerns are being ignored as the country faces the full impact of the second wave of Covid-19 and England prepares for a second national lockdown.

“It is vitally important that children are able to access education but if schools are to stay open then all workers including support staff and nurses must be fully protected at all times.

“Unite will not tolerate the health of our members being compromised and if there is an immediate threat to their wellbeing we will instruct them to withdraw from work.

“As an immediate first step schools must update full and rigorous risk assessments taking into account any health concerns.

“Many support staff who have serious health concerns are feeling incredibly exposed as the government has removed the shielding protections that the vulnerable could previously utilise.

“The bottom line is that the safety of the whole school community, children, their families and staff must not be compromised.”

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