Bringing all pupils back into classrooms while the rate of infection is so high is exposing school staff to serious risk of ill health and could fuel the pandemic, education unions warned this morning.
Six unions with members in schools – the GMB, NAHT, NASUWT, NEU, Unison and Unite – have published a joint statement that calls for a pause in the reopening of schools.
Yet the statement is in stark contrast to health secretary Matt Hancock's comments on BBC Radio 4 this morning, when he said schools were safe for teachers.
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The joint union statement says: “The government’s chaotic handling of the opening of schools has caused confusion for teachers, school staff and parents alike.
“Bringing all pupils back into classrooms while the rate of infection is so high is exposing education sector workers to serious risk of ill health and could fuel the pandemic.
“Unions have called for a pause in the reopening of schools for anyone other than vulnerable children and children of key workers, and a move to remote learning for all while Covid-secure working arrangements are reviewed.
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"All school staff continuing to work in schools should be given priority access to Covid-19 vaccinations.
“Instead of casually asserting that schools are safe, the prime minister should sit down with unions to discuss a joint approach to ensuring safe working arrangements in all schools and prioritising enabling all pupils to have the equipment and access they need to receive a high standard of remote learning until the safety of them and the staff in their school can be guaranteed."
Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), which put out the joint statement, said: “The government’s own advice from SAGE [the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies] makes it clear that opening schools to all pupils now risks increasing the infection rate. That’s in no one's interests.
“Instead of creating chaos for parents and exposing workers to risks, the prime minister should be talking to trade unions about what steps are needed to make sure all schools are Covid-Secure.”
The unions are also calling for the provision of digital equipment and support to pupils who need it to ensure that they can access high-quality remote education.