Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union

A snapshot survey of 4,016 members of the @NEUnion reveals continued problems with health and safety even before wider opening 

After two months in lockdown, and with significantly fewer pupils attending, there are persistent issues around measures to minimise the spread of Covid-19.

  • Almost a quarter (22%) say that pupil numbers have not been kept low enough to allow social distancing.
  • A significant number (26%) are concerned that pupil numbers are too large to allow social distancing when moving around their school.
  • 41% report that their school does not have sufficient sinks for children to regularly wash their hands.
  • A quarter of respondents (24%) state that hand sanitiser is not available in all classrooms or at entrance/exit points.
  • The majority (53%) report they do not have lidded bins in each classroom.
  • The same number (53%) report they are not being offered appropriate PPE.
  • One third (31%) believe the arrangements for cleaning their classroom are inadequate.

It is clear from the findings of this survey that when pupil intake increases, and for so long as the Government fails to meet the NEU’s five tests, the health and safety issues facing heads, teachers and school staff will grow.

Commenting on the findings, Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“It is the duty of Government to ensure that we are kept as safe as possible through this pandemic. No one is saying we can only go back when it is 100% safe, but this has not been thought through properly. As this survey of NEU members shows, significant numbers of teachers and school staff are confirming that basic health and safety guidelines outlined by Government are not being observed. 

“Hurtling towards an arbitrary wider opening date without either sufficient scientific evidence or protection in place is simply wrong. Neither Scotland, Northern Ireland nor Wales have decided the time is right. Many schools will not be abiding by the Government’s preferred wider opening date and none will be penalised as a result. Schools in England need to know they are opening more widely on the basis of sound scientific evidence, not a political whim.”

Commenting on the final report of Independent Sage When should a school reopen? published today, Dr Mary Bousted, said:

“This latest report casts yet more doubt and concern over the Prime Minister’s decision to press ahead with a June 1st wider opening for schools. The Government’s primary duty should be to protect its people, but in England - unlike the rest of the UK – we are hurtling towards the further opening of schools before the scientific evidence says it is safe to do so.

“This decision threatens not just the health of school communities but also of wider society, with the clear risk of a rise in the R rate. All the sacrifices that have been made to stay indoors and try to contain this virus could be thrown away in the pursuit of fulfilling an arbitrary promise to open schools more widely from June 1.

“The National Education Union’s snapshot survey of 4,016 members, published today, shows that even with the current low pupil numbers in schools, significant problems with health and safety exist. Members speak of the inability to maintain social distancing, the lack of hand sanitiser, insufficient PPE and not enough sinks for hand washing. Come June 1 should Government continue to press ahead with their plans, this will clearly get significantly worse.

“We believe the right thing to do is to wait a couple of weeks for the level of coronavirus to recede further and for the test and track programme to become embedded. We must not take risks with the nation’s children, their parents or school staff.

“We agree with Independent SAGE that the extent of the epidemic in Britain is greater than other European nations and that our school system is quite different. We have much larger class sizes in the UK and in England schools have much less support from local authorities.

“No one is saying go back when it is 100% safe, but with 37,460 people  across the country having already lost their lives to Covid-19 the Prime Minister must accept his responsibilities to the country and draw back from this arbitrary date.”

Methodology: The survey of 4,016 members working in state nursery and primary schools in England was conducted between 26-28 May 2020.

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