Teachers, heads and TAs unite in school closures demand

Four main teaching unions and two support staff unions want England's schools online next week, as Brighton advises primaries to stay shut
2nd January 2021, 8:41pm
William Stewart


Teachers, heads and TAs unite in school closures demand

Teachers, Heads & Tas Unite In School Closure Demand

Education secretary Gavin Williamson now faces a united alliance of heads, classroom teachers and support staff, all opposed to his plan to get most schools in the country open to pupils next week.

Tonight, the largest secondary heads union - the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL); joined the NAHT school leaders' union, classroom teacher unions NEU and NASUWT, and support staff unions Unison and the GMB in calling for all schools in England to start the new term online.

And in a separate development, Brighton and Hove Council has advised its primary schools to delay reopening and teach remotely until January 18 due to increased rates of Covid-19.

Meanwhile Birmingham City Council has written to Mr Williamson, urging him to reconsider the start of face-to-face learning in primary schools on Monday for those in Tier 4 areas.

NEU: National teacher walk-out over Covid safety expected

Exclusive: Heads' Covid school safety legal challenge

News: London U-turn NOT about school safety concerns says DfE

Closures U-turn: No London primaries to open

In full: New delayed January school opening dates

The Department for Education is also facing a national walk-out by teachers over Covid safety next week, and the prospect of legal action from both heads' unions.

The NAHT says ASCL has joined it in beginning a legal process intended to force the DfE to release all the scientific advice it is drawing on over school Covid safety and to demonstrate that it has given full and proper consideration to the health and safety of pupils and staff.

Opposition to school opening plans snowballing

Opposition to the DfE's increasingly chaotic plan for the start of term of has snowballed since another U-turn from Mr Williamson last night saw him adding all remaining London boroughs to the list of areas where primaries will remain closed next week.

An emergency meeting of ASCL's executive committee held this afternoon agreed to call on the government to move all schools and colleges in England to remote education for at least the first two weeks of term because of rising Covid infections and the impact of the new variant of the virus.

In a letter to Mr Williamson the association will say that face-to-face teaching should be provided only to vulnerable children and children of key workers until at least 18 January, with all other pupils being taught remotely from Monday.

Geoff Barton, ASCL general secretary said: "It is very clear that the government's plans for the start of the spring term are untenable. The arrangements it has announced are hopelessly confused and we have seen no scientific rationale for them.

Heads have 'no confidence' in DfE approach

"Many school and college leaders have no confidence in the government's approach, and we are very concerned about the safety of families, staff, and the wider community […].

 "We fully support keeping education functioning as fully as possible during the Covid crisis but this has to be done safely, or the long-term consequences and disruption will be much worse."

The NASUWT has also written to the education secretary, calling for an "immediate nationwide move to remote education" for all pupils.

NASUWT general secretary Patrick Roach said it was "now abundantly clear" that the pandemic was impacting on the ability of schools to operate normally.

"There is genuine concern that schools and colleges are not able to reopen fully and safely at this time," he said.

New Covid strain creating 'intolerable risk'

The NAHT is calling for the government to move all schools to home learning for a "brief and determined period for most children" saying that the new strain has created an "intolerable risk" to many schools.

The biggest school support union, Unison, wants the reopening of all schools in England delayed by two weeks to minimise "spiralling" Covid infection.

Unison head of education Jon Richards said school staff had "a right to a safe working environment".

"They shouldn't have to work where they face serious and imminent danger," he added. "Ministers must also ensure any extension of the vaccine priority list covers all school staff and not just teachers."

The GMB, the other big school support staff union, said it would take action to defend the safety of its members unless the reopening of all schools in England is postponed.

'Williamson at sixes and sevens over school reopenings' 

Stuart Fegan, GMB national officer, said: "Gavin Williamson is at sixes and sevens over the reopening of schools. His shambolic approach is a recipe for chaos and danger. It's causing huge stress.

"As infection rates rise, we need a consistent approach, not a postcode lottery. The education secretary now needs to apply some common sense, make a full U-turn, and delay reopening all schools in England until proper safeguards are in place.

The NEU also held an emergency executive meeting today and decided to advise its members of their "legal right" not to return to their classrooms next week amid serious health and safety fears as Covid cases rise.

The union is said to expect that most of its members will follow its advice, forcing most schools to switch to online learning for the majority of pupils.

Brighton and Hove Council has written to Mr Williamson asking to be included in the areas schools allowed to remain online-only, as well as advising its primaries not to open next week.

Councillor Hannah Clare, chair of the children, young people and skills committee, said: "Our published data - up to December 27 - shows that the rate in Brighton & Hove has increased by more than 500 per cent since we came out of lockdown at the beginning of December. It is currently 388 per 100,000.

DfE accused of lacking courage to close schools

"However, the early indications are that this sharp increase is continuing and we will approach rates of approximately 500 per 100,000 in the next few days. This rapid increase is mirrored in the rates in our children and young people.

"We therefore must do this to protect our NHS from being overwhelmed and ensure that our city's children, school staff and the wider community are kept as safe as possible…

"The government has left us to make this decision that it is not brave enough to face and we hope to see a change of heart from them for primary schools across the South East.

"Until then, we will work with our city's primary schools to ensure they are supported in providing remote learning, while remaining open to the children of key workers, and vulnerable children."

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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