From education to employment

The Government has recklessly given up on the idea that social distancing can be maintained in schools

Dr Patrick Roach

Responding to the announcement of a lockdown for England by the Prime Minister in which schools and colleges will remain open, Patrick Roach (@PatrickR_NASUWT), General Secretary of the @NASUWT-The Teachers’ Union, said:

“With levels of virus transmission increasing exponentially, the failure to deal with the threat of the virus has, once again, been fatally exposed.

“The second wave of this pandemic is putting even more lives at risk, and it has been clear for some weeks that coordinated and urgent national action would need to be taken to tackle a crisis that is now enveloping the entire country.

“Many will recognise that the Government’s failure to heed the warnings from leading scientists by reopening schools fully in September may have contributed to the increased spread of Covid-19 transmission and rising death rates over recent weeks.

“There is widespread evidence of rising Covid-19 transmissions within schools and that opening schools fully has acted as a vector for Coronavirus transmission in the wider community. It is vital that the Government recognises that schools and colleges must be part of a national strategy to tackle the continuing spread of the virus.

“The publication of advice by the Government has not been sufficient to prevent the spread of the virus in primary, secondary and special schools or in colleges.

“Determined and radical national action and additional measures are now needed across all schools and colleges.

“The Government’s view that it remains the case that schools should remain open fully will no doubt be viewed with concern by many parents and those working in schools, especially if the Government does not come forward in the coming days with additional Covid-safety measures for schools.

“In light of the mounting evidence, it is critical that, where there is an outbreak of Covid-19 transmission in a school, employers and public health bodies act swiftly and without hesitation to protect public health by sending pupils and staff home.

“Protecting the vulnerable also needs to be a priority. However, there remain serious concerns about the risks to teachers who are vulnerable to Covid-19 transmission, including teachers who are pregnant, or clinically extremely vulnerable, or who have underlying conditions or who are from higher risk groups such as BAME teachers.

“The Government will need to do more in the coming days to ensure that the most vulnerable are protected at this critical time. Ministers have said that people should work from home where possible and that those who have underlying health conditions or who are most at risk from the Coronavirus should stay at home. The same protections now need to be introduced urgently for those working in schools and colleges as apply to workers in other sectors.

“The Government has recklessly given up on the idea that social distancing can be maintained in schools, despite the evidence that this is the best protection against the spread of the Coronavirus. The Government needs to accept that ensuring smaller classes in schools must also be considered an essential element in the country’s strategy to get control of this worsening situation.

“The Government needs to be clear with the public about the evidence upon which it is relying to insist that keeping schools open fully will not impact adversely on children, their families, those working in schools or undermine the impact of the latest national lockdown measures in bringing down rates of Coronavirus transmission.

“In the event that more children or staff will need to be at home, the Government must also pull out all the stops to ensure that all children have effective access to remote education. So far, the Government has failed to deliver on its promises of laptops for children, which is seriously hampering the efforts that are being made by schools to support vulnerable and disadvantaged children during this crisis. An urgent national plan for remote education is needed which must be backed up by substantially additional resources for schools.

“Schools will also need urgent additional support if they are to get through to Christmas and remain safe to staff and pupils, including extra funding for cleaning, PPE and for additional supply staff to cover where other teachers are absent.”

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