Boris Johnson assures parents ‘schools are safe’ for children
Secondary schools in Tier 4 areas along with primary schools in badly hit parts of the country have already been ordered to shut for at least two weeks due to the spread of Covid. However, unions have demanded the Government go further and immediately shut all classrooms for at least a fortnight.
In a joint statement the leaders of the GMB, NAHT, NASUWT, NEU, UNISON and Unite unions demanded “an immediate nationwide move to remote education for all pupils in primary, secondary and special schools and colleges”.
They said: “The Government’s chaotic handling of the opening of schools has caused confusion for teachers, school staff and parents alike.
“Bringing all pupils back into classrooms while the rate of infection is so high is exposing education sector workers to serious risk of ill-health and could fuel the pandemic.”
Coronavirus cases have surged in recent weeks with more 54,990 new cases recorded in the last 24 hours.
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Schools are re-opening today following a two-week break for the Christmas holidays.
The unions have told their members to write to their headteachers and refuse to enter classrooms, providing them with a model letter of what to say.
They have even suggested schools may not be safe to open to look after the children of key workers and those from vulnerable backgrounds.
Unions said: “We accept that schools and colleges may need to provide face to face provision for vulnerable students and the children of key workers and are also expected to open for some exam groups.
“This should, however, only happen after risk assessments have been reviewed and appropriate measures taken to ensure safety, including for necessary social distancing and limits on group sizes.
“It is likely that many schools and colleges will not, as a consequence, be able to provide this provision on Monday 4 January even for these students.”
Forcing schools to shut completely would risk pulling thousands of parents out of vital frontline services including the NHS to look after their children.
The drastic measures being demanded by the unions have even left some teachers uneasy.
One 26-year-old primary school teacher in Bristol, who did not wish to be named, said she “did not feel right” not being there to support vulnerable children in her classes, and would only sign a letter if she felt unsafe at work.
“The reason I haven’t signed it is that I’m so so worried about our kids due to their home situations – I’ve been having bad dreams about their experiences,” she said.
“I know how awful my kids’ home situation is.
“I don’t feel right not being there for them.”
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Bryony Baynes, head of Kempsey Primary School in Worcestershire, said she felt “sick with anxiety” at the way her teachers were stuck in the middle of a row between the Government and the unions.
She said: “They are, as I am, very anxious, but are determined to do their best for the children in our care.
“I think the unions are combining to bring pressure on the Government and on headteachers to close.”
Yesterday Prime Minister Boris Johnson dismissed calls by unions to shut down face-to-face learning.
He said on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “Schools are safe. It is very, very important to stress that.”
Minutes from a meeting of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) group from December 22 concluded scientists agreed coronavirus reproduction rate “would be lower with schools closed”, but did not say they were not safe to open.
The Labour Party has also distanced itself from the demands of the unions, saying schools should be shut as a last resort.
Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green has called for all non-essential shops to shut before considering whether to close schools.
The National Education Union has said over 6,000 letters from teachers refusing to enter schools have so far been sent to headteachers.
As well as demanding face-to-face learning be scrapped for at least a fortnight, when schools reopen the unions are also demanding children wear masks at all times and all students to be kept at least one metre apart in classrooms.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Children’s education has consistently been a national priority, which is why we want classrooms to reopen wherever possible in the new term.
“Schools will continue to implement appropriate safety measures to help mitigate the risk of transmission.
“As we’ve said, we will move to remote education as a last resort, with involvement of public health officials, in areas where infection and pressures on the NHS are highest.”
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