Vulnerable teachers will need more protection, union leaders warned tonight as the prime minister announced that schools will remain open throughout England’s new lockdown.
Classroom teacher and heads' representatives are calling for the government to introduce more safety measures in schools as Covid-19 infections rise.
And one school leaders' union expects the “rapidly deteriorating situation" will mean pupil rotas "sooner rather than later" and wants the government to set out the details.
Meanwhile, England's largest teaching union, the NEU, had already called for schools to close for four weeks during lockdown, hours before Boris Johnson said they would stay open.
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This evening Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, responded to the prime minister, saying: “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.”
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He continued: “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 [black, Asian and/or minority ethnic] teachers.
“The government will need to do more in the coming days to ensure that the most vulnerable are protected at this critical time."
The largest heads' union had the same message for ministers.
"The government needs to be wholly transparent about the risks to children, families and school staff of doing so [keeping schools open], and give clear guidance on what additional measures schools may have to take in order to keep everyone safe," Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of the NAHT school leaders’ union, said.
Dr Roach added: “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.”
Association of School and College Leaders general secretary Geoff Barton said: “While scaling back the opening of schools is clearly a last resort, this rapidly deteriorating situation of growing transmission rates may mean that some restrictions will become necessary sooner rather than later, such as implementing the rota system in secondary schools suggested in the government’s own contingency planning.
“The government needs to set out the circumstances which would trigger such restrictions in order to provide clarity and confidence – for pupils, parents and staff – that it has a robust and responsive plan in place.”