Further education leaders have joined forces with those in the schools sector to urge the government to prioritise teachers and education staff for the second phase of the Covid-19 vaccine roll-out.
In a letter to education secretary Gavin Williamson and health secretary Matt Hancock, the Association of Colleges is joined by the Association of School and College Leaders, the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, Holex, Landex, Natspec and the Sixth Form Colleges Association, as well as their peers in the school sector, the Early Years Alliance plus the GMB, the University and Colleges Union, Unison, Unite and the National Education Union in calling for early years, school, college, adult education and independent training provider staff to receive the vaccine.
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The letter says: “The case for prioritising early years, school, college, adult education, and independent training provider staff is as follows:
Fully reopening education settings is a national priority, the moment it is safe to do so.
Learning often takes place indoors and in close contact with large numbers of students in multiple groups, putting staff at high risk of catching and transmitting the virus.
Vaccination prioritisation, combined with mass testing, would be a sure way to reduce transmissions, remove any further disruption to the education of our young people and to support the resumption of economic activity by reducing the burden of home schooling on working parents.”
The letter also suggests that education staff be “sub-categorised for priority” so that those working in early years, specialist settings and those whose role involves elements of health care and very close contact are first to receive the vaccine.
Leaders say that this sub-group should be closely followed by wider teaching and support staff in all schools and colleges.
‘The best way to support the national effort to reopen’
The chief executive of the Association of Colleges, David Hughes, said that the “strength of feeling” from all voices within the education sector could not be clearer.
He said: “Today’s letter is a sign that prioritising vaccinations for teachers and staff who work in education is the best way to support the national effort to reopen all education settings as soon as it is safe to do so.
“As part of a wider plan that includes mass testing and all of the measures schools, colleges and other providers are taking, this prioritisation will be a key part of reducing transmissions and reducing any further disruption to students’ learning.”
University and Colleges Union general secretary Jo Grady said: “The government was right to belatedly move teaching online at colleges last week as part of the new lockdown. But college staff and students have too often been treated as an afterthought during the Covid pandemic. Any safe return to in-person teaching in colleges must include a commitment to prioritise offering the vaccine to college staff.
“A vaccination programme for further education will help reduce transmission, allow colleges to reopen safely and ensure that colleges are well placed to help the country rebuild after the pandemic.”
The full list of signatories
David Hughes, chief executive, Association of Colleges
Geoff Barton, general secretary, Association of School and College Leaders
Jane Hickie, chief executive, Association of Employment and Learning Providers
Neil Leitch, chief executive, Early Years Alliance
Kevin Courtney and Mary Bousted, joint general secretaries, National Education Union
Stuart Fegan, national officer, GMB
Alex Payne, chief executive, Landex
Bill Watkin, chief executive, Sixth Form Colleges Association
Sue Pember, policy director, Holex
Clare Howard, chief executive, Natspec
Jo Grady, general secretary, University and Colleges Union
Jon Richards, head of education, Unison
Siobhan Endean, national officer for equalities, Unite