Teachers warn Williamson not to rush to reopen schools

Union and parent group urge education secretary to ensure safety tests can be met before more pupils are brought back into schools

schools opening

The NEU teaching union has joined forces with parent organisation Parentkind in sending a letter to education secretary Gavin Williamson urging caution about the reopening of schools.

The letter follows a consultation by the DfE on options for reopening schools, including that pupils could return on a rota basis or that certain year groups could go back ahead of others.

It expresses a shared concern, on behalf of parents, teachers and headteachers, and says "public health is the first priority".

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It also outlines the NEU’s five tests that must be passed before schools can reopen.

Kevin Courtney, NEU joint general secretary, said: “The NEU agrees with parents that schools should not return until it is safe to so. We all want some sort of normality, we all want children and young people to be back in school. What we do not want is a rushed return that ignores the potential risks to students, their families, school staff and wider society.

"For the government to gain the trust of parents and school staff, they must meet the reasonable five tests that the NEU, supported by Parentkind, have asked to be met. Failure to do so is risking the prolonged threat of this pandemic for the whole of society.”

John Jolly, chief executive of Parentkind, said: “Overwhelmingly, parents tell us that they do not want their children to go back to school until it is safe to do so, with most wanting clarity on when this could be. It is vital that parents’ voices are heard and shape government action."

The full text of the letter is as follows:

Dear Gavin,

Teachers, parents and staff have responded with the utmost seriousness and professionalism to the Covid-19 crisis. They need to be confident that public health is the first priority in all considerations concerning how we move forward and together combat this terrible virus. If confidence and clarity are lacking, there is a risk of chaos and a greater spread of the virus.

As you know, the National Education Union is very clear that for schools to reopen we need to have sound scientific evidence that it is safe to do so. The NEU's petition to that effect has now reached over 250,000 signatures. This strength of support is a clear indication that parents as well as school staff do not want the Government to rush into decisions that could cost lives. 

The Government has its own 5 tests before relaxing the lockdown.

Below we outline our own 5 tests we think the Government must meet before moving to the further opening of schools.

We believe that these tests must be capable of being passed in order to create the necessary confidence amongst parents and staff.

We would be very pleased to discuss these tests in depth with you and what evidence can be produced to show they can be met.

5 Tests

We want to begin to re-open schools and colleges as soon as we can. But this needs to be safe for society, for children and their families and the staff who work in them.

We have these five tests which the Government should show will be met by reliable evidence, peer-reviewed science and transparent decision making.

Test 1: Much lower numbers of Covid-19 cases

The new case count must be much lower than it is now, with a sustained downward trend, with confidence that new cases are known and counted promptly. And the Government must have extensive arrangements for testing and contact tracing to keep it that way.

Test 2: A national plan for social distancing

The Government must have a national plan including parameters for both appropriate physical distancing and levels of social mixing in schools, as well as for appropriate PPE, which will be locally negotiated at school-by-school and local authority level.

Test 3: Testing, testing, testing!

Comprehensive access to regular testing for children and staff to ensure our schools and colleges don’t become hot spots for Covid-19.

Test 4: Whole school strategy

Protocols to be put in place to test a whole school or college when a case occurs and for isolation to be strictly followed.

Test 5: Protection for the vulnerable

Vulnerable staff, and staff who live with vulnerable people, must work from home, fulfilling their professional duties to the extent that is possible. Plans must specifically address the protection of vulnerable parents, grandparents and carers.

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Dave Speck

Dave Speck is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @Specktator100

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