Teachers and support staff working in schools amid the coronavirus pandemic need personal protective equipment (PPE) to remain safe, an academy chain chief has warned.
Sir John Townsley, of Leeds-based GORSE Academies Trust, 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.
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“Schools are taking all the right physical distancing precautions such as staggering break times, ensuring that children are spread out in classrooms, and regularly disinfecting communal areas but there is a real need for staff and pupils to be provided with safety equipment.
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"While it is absolutely right that NHS staff are provided with personal protective equipment, it is critical that school staff receive it as well so that they are kept safe.
"Just as social care workers must be provided with full protective equipment, so should our heroic school staff – this is a matter of urgency if we are to expect them to continue to play their crucial role."
Mary Bousted, joint-general secretary of the NEU teaching union, said: “The NEU recognises that NHS staff must be the very first priority for scarce protective equipment which is in short supply.
“Staff in schools are also in the front line and their safety must be given urgent consideration as well.
“All schools must have adequate supplies of soap, hand towels and sanitiser. There are clearly some situations where school staff will need protective equipment all or some of the time, in particular when working in some SEND settings.”
The NEU also says it is pressing for COVID 19 testing to be available in schools as soon as it has been made available throughout the NHS.
Meanwhile, public service union Unison is calling on the Department for Education to "calm worries" by staging a webinar to explain what equipment school staff should be wearing.
Unison head of education Jon Richards said: “There is a lack of clarity about what people should wear in different environments. We know that the NHS have done webinars which explain what different staff need in different circumstances and we believe the DfE ought to try to get one done for schools – this would calm people's worries.
"The bar was set high when in the early days testing was done by NHS staff in full protections suits – as the virus was an unknown quantity then – whereas now we know that you don’t need such high protection. The trouble is the lack of clarity.”
The Department for Education has been contacted for comment.