Face coverings in classrooms, teacher vaccines, ventilation and rotas are among the minimum measures needed for the safe and full return of all pupils to school, the NEU teaching union has set out today.
The union says its plan is a move away from the government’s “stop/start approach” and is rooted in its members’ detailed knowledge of schools and their professional experience as well as close attention to the science around Covid.
NEU joint general secretary Mary Bousted described the three-part plan as a “substantial strategy for schools and colleges to emerge from lockdown in a way that is safe and sustainable”.
- The use of rotas for both pupils and teachers as “a good means of allowing regular attendance” (whereas currently, the Department for Education does not support the use of rotas in mainstream schools).
- Masks should be worn by secondary-aged students in classrooms as well as all other areas of the school (whereas DfE guidance currently states they should only be worn in communal areas).
- Education staff should be vaccinated as a priority.
- Ofsted should focus on “thematic reports” that support teachers in understanding the most effective approaches to reintegrating pupils to learning in school, the learning loss experienced by them and the most effective ways of tackling this.
- Arrangements for social distancing, bubbles and constraints on mixing “must be maintained” as more students return.
- Classrooms must be well ventilated, while maintaining a reasonable temperature; costs for additional heating must be reimbursed.
- Erect marquees on school sites and bring back into use unused public buildings, which could permit primary schools in particular to reduce group sizes without implementing rotas.
- For now, while schools and colleges remain open only to some students, further steps must be taken to limit the numbers that are still attending by reviewing the categories allowed to attend and permitting leaders to limit numbers further where necessary.
Dr Bousted said: “We all want schools and colleges to be fully open again, but this needs to be properly planned with measures in place to address the problems already encountered and to ensure a safe and sustained return. Plans also need to be in place for remote learning.
“Unions, school leaders, teachers and staff are tired of last-minute guidance and U-turns. Families, also, have been stung once too often by false hope.
“Government must now initiate structured talks with education unions, based upon all available evidence, about how a phased return is best managed, irrespective of whether that is 8 March or not.
“School leaders can then begin making arrangements, confident that their time is not being wasted and that there is real potential for long-term solutions. The NEU would enter such talks with a determination to make our recovery plan a reality, benefiting staff and pupils alike.”
The plan also calls for a fight against child poverty and “to build a better world, post-Covid, for all our children and young people”.
The DfE has been contacted for comment.