Only 2% of support staff say 1 June return is safe

Teaching assistants, cleaners and other support staff have been ‘shut out’ of the school reopening debate, says Unison

Tes Reporter

Coronavirus: School support staff fear that it is not safe to reopen, Unison research shows

The majority of school support staff remain unconvinced by the government's message that schools in England will be safe to open to more pupils from 1 June, a survey suggests.

Only 2 per cent of school support staff, including teaching assistants, cleaners and office staff, said they felt reassured by Boris Johnson's speech and recent government guidance that it would be safe if pupil numbers increased from next month, according to a poll by the union Unison.

The survey, of more than 45,000 support staff in schools, suggests that 30 per cent of staff are suffering with high anxiety or are losing sleep over the plans to increase pupil numbers from next month.

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Meanwhile, Unison has today called on the government to listen to independent scientists and pull back from a 1 June start date.

Coronavirus: Safety fears about reopening schools

Jon Richards, Unison's head of education, said: “There are real concerns the government is gambling with the safety of pupils, staff and the wider community.

“It makes no sense for ministers to push schools to open more widely in England, while other parts of the UK take a more considered approach."

Around 77 per cent of respondents to the Unison survey said they were not confident that their school had the staff resources and expertise to ensure all health and safety measures and risk assessments will be in place by the start of June.

Of those with school-age children, 95 per cent said they did not feel it was safe to send them back to school. One worker said she was "petrified" at the thought of her child going back.

A Unison spokesperson said: "School staff have often been shut out of the debate about schools opening more widely, despite being among those who would be hardest hit if they contracted Covid-19.

"That's because support staff tend to be older, are disproportionately from the BAME [black, Asian and minority ethnic] community and come from more disadvantaged backgrounds than teachers. The government has not modelled the impact of an increase in pupil numbers on this group of staff."

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "We want children back in schools as soon as possible because being with their teachers and friends is so important for their education and their wellbeing.

"Plans for a cautious, phased return of some year groups from 1 June, at the earliest, are based on the best scientific and medical advice.

"The welfare of children and staff has been at the heart of all decision making."


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