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Sector response to PM’s announcement schools in England will not start to open more widely to pupils until at least 8th March 2021 at the earliest

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The Teaching Union’s @NASUWT @NAHTnews @NEUnion respond to @BorisJohnson’s roadmap for schools to begin opening more fully

Commenting on the Prime Minister’s announcement that schools in England will not start to open more widely to pupils until at least 8 March at the earliest, Dr Patrick Roach, General Secretary of the NASUWT-The Teachers’ Union, said:

“It is essential that the national lockdown restrictions are supported fully in order to reduce the rates of virus transmission in the wider community and in order to ensure that schools can reopen fully as soon as it is safe to do so whilst minimising the risks to public health. 

“It is important that the majority of children and young people in all schools are now supported to stay at home and that teachers also work from home to provide support for children’s learning remotely. 

“The Government must deliver urgently extra support to families during the lockdown, many of whom are experiencing very serious financial difficulties at this time. 

“Given previous experience, the announcement of arbitrary dates for schools to reopen to all pupils can be profoundly unhelpful to parents and to those working in schools. However, a clear plan for how schools will be fully reopened whenever the lockdown restrictions are lifted remains a key question which the Government must now work urgently and openly with the profession to address.”

Prime Minister’s Roadmap for Schools  

Commenting on the Prime Minister’s statement to the Commons on his roadmap for schools to begin opening more fully, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:  

“We all want schools to open, but like the Prime Minister we want them to open when it is safe to do so. This has to be done sustainably and safely. 

“We agree with Boris Johnson that this is a balancing act. He has a duty to assess the easing of lockdown according to the progress and effects of vaccination, a reduction in cases and the various other criteria he has set out. But in setting out a potential date of 8 March, falling once again into his characteristic and too often misplaced optimism, he is pre-empting a decision that will have to be made in mid-February at the very earliest.  

“If we come out too early, we will end up in lockdown again. Hinging his argument for schools according to the first four vaccine groups developing immunity by 8 March, is not enough in itself. This may protect the elderly and most vulnerable adults in the population, but it does not protect parents. It fails completely to recognise the role schools have played in community transmission. The Prime Minister has already forgotten what he told the nation at the beginning of this lockdown, that schools are a ‘vector for transmission’. 

“When schools were reopened after the Spring 2020 lockdown, 1 in 1,000 were infected with coronavirus. Currently 1 in 55 people have coronavirus and R is only just below 1, so cases are falling slowly. It would have been fine to have set out a roadmap, but to suggest a date at this stage runs the risk of creating false hope. The Prime Minister may now be immune to the embarrassment of u-turns, but school leaders, teachers and support staff, not to mention families and students, are utterly exhausted by them.”

NAHT comments on Prime Minister’s announcement about lifting school lockdown measures

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said:

“The Prime Minister has stated today that the earliest the government believes it will be safe for the country to admit more pupils back to school will be 8th March.

“As the PM says, it has been a challenge for families to juggle employment and home-learning. School leaders want to see pupils back in class as soon as it is safe to do so.

“What is clear from the Prime Minister’s statement is that there are too many unknowns, such as the effectiveness of the vaccine and the pace at which infections are falling, to put the 8th March date firmly in the diary yet.

“The government now needs to collaborate with school leaders and their teams to make sure that there is a workable plan for lifting the lockdown. This includes reviewing all of the safety measures that schools have been using up to now, to make sure they are still effective.

“The government will also have to put effort into reassuring families that it is safe to send their children back to school – there is a confidence test the government must pass to make the return a success.

“It is also important that the teaching workforce is prioritised for vaccinations. This would give confidence as well as providing a better chance that once lockdown measures are lifted, children’s education is less likely to continue to be disrupted by staff absence and illness.”

CBI RESPONDS TO LATEST GOVERNMENT ANNOUNCEMENTS ON COVID

Matthew Fell, CBI Chief UK Policy Director, said:

On the Government’s plans to publish a lockdown exit plan in late February

“The vaccine rollout is progressing well but it will clearly take time before the door to reopen the economy can be more than just ajar.

“Ongoing school closures will put real pressure on children and teachers, as well as parents who must continue to juggle work and home commitments.

“Business has a big role to play in charting a course out of lockdown that best protects firms, staff and customers. We are ready and willing to work with Government on their exit strategy.”

UCU responds to Prime Minister’s statement on lockdown and re-opening of school sites

The University and College Union (UCU) has today (Wednesday) responded to the Prime Minister’s statement on the current lockdown and plans to fully reopen school sites in England. 

Demanding stability and safety for further and higher education staff, the union said the government needs to keep all but essential teaching online until at least April in colleges and until the end of this academic year in universities. 
  
UCU General Secretary Jo Grady said:

“It is scandalous that yet again the Prime Minister has not even bothered to mention further or higher education as part of his statement on plans to fully reopen school sites.

“Staff in further and higher education need to be able to plan their work over the coming months in the knowledge they will not be forced to do unnecessary and unsafe in-person activities. That includes working in libraries, offices on campus, and other potentially unsafe environments as well as seminar rooms and laboratories. The government needs to admit that it is not safe for university students to travel back to their term-time accommodation, and pledge to keep all but essential teaching online until at least April in colleges and until the end of the current academic term in universities.”

‘University and college staff are burnt out from the chaotic and unsustainable demands which the sector has placed on them this year. We need certainty and stability if staff are to continue delivering the best possible remote learning for students.’ 

Reopen schools as soon as possible and replace future holidays with catch up classes, says think tank

Responding to the Prime Minister’s statement in the House of Commons, Reform think tank Director, Charlotte Pickles, said:

“The Prime Minister’s decision to delay reopening schools for at least another 6 weeks is disappointing.

“Only last week the Deputy Chief Medical Officer stated that schools are “not a significant driver” of community infection. Yet there is a very clear weight of evidence that school closures are having a devastating effect on young people’s learning and mental health. Without urgent action that means long-term damage to the life chances of an entire generation.

“The Government should seek to start reopening schools as soon as possible, starting with primaries. They should also consider cancelling or reducing school holidays this year to help pupils catch up.”

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