Unions call for priority COVID-19 testing for school staff to keep schools open and safe

Unions call for priority COVID-19 testing for school staff to keep schools open and safe

- in GMB, UNISON, Unite
children in school

UNISON, GMB and Unite have sent a joint letter to education secretary Gavin Williamson demanding the Government take action to make schools and colleges safe.

Giving all school and college staff priority testing, reducing the size of pupil ‘bubbles’ and making face masks or coverings compulsory on school buses are among the measures the unions are calling for to help ensure schools can stay open in the coming weeks.

In a joint letter to Gavin Willamson, the Secretary of State for Education, the unions outline several proposals to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission among school children and staff and reduce the chance of entire schools having to close.

The letter, signed by UNISON National Secretary Jon Richards, GMB National Officer Karen Leonard and Unite National Officer Caren Evans, outlines the following proposals:

  • Ensure all school and college staff are given priority in accessing testing
  • Reduce bubble sizes
  • Tightening the rules on face coverings on school transport
  • Making homeworking arrangements for all vulnerable and extremely vulnerable school and college staff
  • Clarity regarding symptoms and when parents should seek a test for their children
  • Sharing of both suspected and confirmed COVID-19 cases with staff and parents

The unions stress that all school employees should have access to priority testing – not just teachers – and full pay should be given to lower-paid workers who are required to self-isolate.

The three unions – who represent school support staff across the UK including teaching assistants, technicians, catering workers, cleaning staff, caretakers, and receptionists – say the government must introduce additional measures in a bid to halt the rising number of coronavirus cases.

The letter states:

“We are writing out of concern over the current increase in positive cases of coronavirus, and the potential further loss of vital education for children and young people. We understand that you have met with the school teacher unions, but we were not invited. So we are writing to you to offer suggestions borne out of our collective experience of education, with the aim of helping you keep schools open.

“Support staff unions worked tirelessly with the government over the summer to try to ensure that schools and colleges would be safe for pupils and staff when they opened in September.”

Read the letter in full here: https://www.unison.org.uk/content/uploads/2020/09/Support-staff-union-testing-letter.pdf

UNISON head of education Jon Richards said: “It takes just one infection at a school to disrupt learning, potentially for dozens of children, as well as putting the health of staff and families in the community at risk.

“The government’s lack of clarity means ​it’s not clear if teaching assistants are covered by the new testing rules. But without testing for caretakers and cleaners some schools won’t open, and pupils and staff won’t be safe.

“With the virus taking hold again, the government must use all options to reduce the spread. School closures will create further childcare difficulties for key workers, who the country will ​be depend​ing upon in the coming months.”

GMB national officer Karen Leonard said: “GMB and ​other unions ​have worked hard throughout the summer to ensure schools stayed safe for pupils, staff and parents – despite vilification from the Conservative establishment.

“With Covid cases increasing throughout the whole of the UK, we have written to the government setting out constructive suggestions for our schools – including full contractual sick pay for all those working in our schools.”

Unite national officer Ian Woodland said: “As we enter the second wave of Covid-19, it is vital that everything is done to keep schools open to provide a solid education for the next generation of employees.

“The key to this is a comprehensive ‘test and trace’ system for staff and schoolchildren – something, in the eight months of the pandemic, the government has conspicuously failed to provide.”


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