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Government must ensure pupils’ learning is not disrupted in September, say unions

Education Secretary James Cleverly

Unions have jointly written to new education secretary James Cleverly ​on Friday (22 July) calling for urgent action during the summer holidays to protect schools in England ahead of the next Covid wave.

The letter has been sent by​ seven unions representing leaders and staff in schools – UNISON, ASCL, NAHT, NEU, GMB, NASUWT and Unite – and says ministers must use the time during ​the summer break to implement a range of measures to minimise disruption and cut lost learning.

These include improved ventilation, air filtration, free lateral flow tests, renewed public guidance on reducing risks and a fresh push on encouraging vaccination.

The unions are calling for the “preventative measures” after attendance levels hit a five-month low in the first week of July. That coincided with an upsurge ​in Covid infections. 

The letter has been signed by UNISON head of education Mike Short, ASCL general secretary Geoff Barton, NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman, NEU joint general secretaries Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, GMB national officer Avril Chambers, NASUWT general secretary Patrick Roach and Unite regional officer Clare Keogh.

In it the unions say absence rates have been “a real cause for concern”, and there are signs the next wave of infections could be even greater.

“Given what has been learnt about the level of educational disruption and illness this virus can still cause the government must act now,” the letter says. It adds that education staff have among the highest rates of Long Covid according to the Office for National Statistics.

“We therefore urge you to immediately set out your plans for using the school holidays to protect learning and health in the ​autumn and winter.”

The letter calls on the government to:

  • provide additional funding to schools to improve ventilation and support spiralling energy costs,
  • provide effective air filtration devices to all schools for September as an immediate measure until ventilation is improved,
  • re-establish funding for schools to cover supply costs for teaching and support staff absences in the autumn term since this has been a major additional expense for schools over the last two years,
  • make free lateral flow tests available to all staff and pupils in education settings,
  • issue clear public health guidance on what the public should be doing to minimise the chance of infection,
  • run a public health messaging campaign on vaccination to boost the low rates of childhood vaccination,
  • publish updated guidance for schools on face covering, and 
  • reinstate Covid risk assessments, including for vulnerable workers and pregnant staff.

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