Teachers putting themselves at risk during the coronavirus pandemic should be treated as a priority group for testing and personal protective equipment (PPE), the House of Commons education committee has urged.
In a letter sent to education secretary Gavin Williamson today, chair Robert Halfon said the committee was "concerned that teachers on the front line may not have access to priority Covid-19 testing".
He added: "We feel that this is particularly important for teachers and school staff who continue to be asked to look after the most vulnerable children, even though most schools remain closed." Mr Halfon today told Tes his concerns also applied to college staff.
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While NHS staff were "understandably" first in the queue for the tests, the letter continues, as more testing becomes available, "teachers and school staff should be considered one of the priority groups for testing for Covid-19".
This would help headteachers to ensure that those who are identified as having Covid-19 were "not inadvertently asked to work on the front line in close proximity to children", it says.
Mr Halfon's letter notes that, in some education settings, NHS guidance on appropriate social distancing will be "much harder to observe, particularly in schools which provide significant levels of specialist personal care and support".
The challenges of social distancing in some settings is something the DfE has also recently acknowledged.
The committee also asked Mr Williamson to, "where necessary", ensure priority access to PPE is given to "front line teaching staff".
Robert Halfon's letter
The letter states: "We understand that the DfE will be providing further guidance about issuing personal protective equipment to settings that may require it. We would urge the department to publish this as soon as possible to end uncertainty."
A similar call was made earlier today by Sir John Townsley, of Leeds-based GORSE Academies Trust, who said it was “a matter of urgency” for school staff if they were expected to continue to play their “crucial role”.
He said: “If schools were to close because they lack staff who either no longer wish to risk their health by going into school or who are unable to work because they have fallen ill, then that would set back our national effort significantly."
Today’s letter from Mr Halfon says: "Teaching staff up and down the country are working hard to ensure that schools and colleges can remain open for children of critical workers, and for vulnerable children.
"I am sure you will join us in in applauding the professionalism and dedication of our teaching workforce, who are putting themselves at increased risk to support vulnerable children and ensure critical workers can continue their jobs."