Student and staff safety is paramount, education unions warn government

Child writing
Support us and go ad-free

Unions have sent a list of key measures to the government which they say must be met before pupils in England can safely return to their desks.

It includes extra money for deep cleaning and personal protective equipment (PPE) and local powers to close schools if clusters of coronavirus (Covid-19) infections break out in a particular area.

Last week, an NHS chief warned the government it should be wary about reopening schools too early as scientists do not fully understand the extent of coronavirus transmission between children.

The joint union statement was sent to education secretary Gavin Williamson on Friday by bodies including the NAHT school leaders’ union and the National Education Union (NEU). GMB, Unison and Unite were also among the authors of the statement.

Safety of pupils and staff is paramount

Published by the Trades Union Congress (TUC), the letter called for:

clear scientific published evidence that trends in transmission of Covid-19 will not be adversely impacted by the reopening phase and that schools are also safe to reopen

The “essential” tests include:

– Safety and welfare of pupils and staff as the paramount principle
– No increase in pupil numbers until full rollout of a national test and trace scheme
– A national coronavirus education taskforce with government, unions and education stakeholders to agree statutory guidance for safe reopening
– Consideration of the specific needs of vulnerable students and families facing financial hardship
– Additional resources for enhanced school cleaning, PPE and risk assessments
– Local autonomy to close schools where testing indicates clusters of new coronavirus cases

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said:

Parents and staff need full confidence that schools will be safe before any pupils return.

The Government must work closely with unions to agree a plan that meets the tests we have set out.

Those discussions must include unions representing all school workers, not just teachers. The best way to do this is through a national taskforce for safe schools, with Government, unions and education stakeholders.

Frances O’Grady
Frances O’Grady (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Opposition response

Labour’s shadow education secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey called on the Government to “take heed of the tests set out today by trade unions and commit to not opening schools unless they have been met”. She said:

The primary consideration before opening schools has to be the safety of pupils, their families and staff.

Schools should not open until it is safe to do so and the Government must commit to work with trade unions and others to agree a set of principles and tests to put safety systems in place in advance of any planned reopening.

Last week at the Downing Street daily news conference, NHS England’s national medical director Professor Stephen Powis said the “science is still evolving” on how much children contribute towards virus spread.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has vowed the Government will only allow pupils to return when it was safe to do so.

Featured image via pxfuel

Support us and go ad-free

We need your help to keep speaking the truth

Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.

Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.

We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.

In return, you get:

* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop

Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.

With your help we can continue:

* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do

We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?

The Canary Support us