School Covid safety plans will fail, teachers tell DfE

NEU 'astonished' that primaries are opening, with heads said to be 'baffled, frustrated and justifiably angry' by the 'last-minute mess'

William Stewart

Mary Bousted

A teaching union leader says she is “astonished” that most primary staff and pupils are being sent back into schools “which aren’t Covid secure”.

Mary Bousted, NEU joint general secretary, has also predicted that the government’s Covid measures for schools, focusing on a mass testing drive will “fail”.

Her counterpart at the NAHT school leaders union, Paul Whiteman, has described the government's plans for next term as a "last-minute mess".

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Both were reacting to today’s announcement by the education secretary of revised and delayed January opening dates for secondaries and a minority of primaries.

Their comments came as prime minister Boris Johnson insisted that "schools are safe".

We are astonished at today’s announcement by Gavin Williamson,” Dr Bousted said.  

“With warnings from eminent scientists of an ‘imminent catastrophe’ unless the whole of the UK is locked down, and with more cases in hospitals than ever before and our NHS facing an enormous crisis the secretary of state is sending the majority of primary pupils and staff back on Monday to working environments which aren’t Covid secure. 

“The government has not, despite being repeatedly asked, published the scientific guidance on the risks involved in school and college reopening. This information is desperately needed - particularly as the new variants of the virus are 50 per cent more transmissible.” 

Mr Whiteman said: “This is another last-minute mess which could so easily have been avoided if the government had listened to school leaders before the holidays.

"Instead, back then, schools that wanted to shift to remote learning were threatened with legal action. Now we have a situation where the government is instructing schools to reduce the amount of teaching time available.

“If we’d had the freedom to take action before the holidays, we might have been in a position to have more schools open for more pupils. School leaders will be baffled, frustrated and justifiably angry tonight."

Geoff Barton, Association of School and College Leaders general secretary said: "We are concerned that the government is assuming that it will be business as normal for the majority of primary schools from the start of term.

“The government needs to urgently explain why it considers the full resumption of primary education to be safe in most areas despite alarming infection rates."

He added: “Schools and colleges will be frustrated that the new arrangements for the spring term have once again been communicated late and after days of speculation.

"We appreciate this is a fast-developing situation but the government has made a habit of chaotic eleventh-hour announcements which leave schools and colleges picking up the pieces.”

The NEU wants a longer period of remote online education for all schools to “buy time” for vaccinations and more safety measures.

Dr Bousted said teachers were “uniquely” being “required to work in overcrowded buildings, with no effective social distancing, no PPE and inadequate ventilation”.   

She also said there were “serious questions” about the effectiveness of the lateral flow tests governments wants secondary schools to use.

“We believe the government's steps will fail, that cases will continue to rise and that the question of school opening will have to be revisited but in a worse situation than now,” Dr Bousted added.  

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William Stewart

William Stewart

William Stewart is News editor at Tes

Find me on Twitter @wstewarttes

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