Schools should only open more widely when it is safe to do so; show us the science

A statement has been received from the the National Education Council stating their views on the re-opening of schools:-

The Prime Minister’s announcement that schools, colleges and nurseries should start opening more widely from 1st June was rushed and reckless. Schools should only open when it is safe. Safe for the children for the staff who care for and educate them, and for the community.

More than 400,000 teachers, teaching assistants, heads, parents and health workers who have signed a national petition agree. We all want children and young people to be back in school but it is vital that this is safe. We want to know how much children transmit to one another and to adults and what the risk is to society as a whole.

The NEU has written to the Government three times to ask for the scientific evidence that proves it’s safe to open schools more widely but has yet to receive a response.

Earlier this week, the Department for Education’s chief Scientific adviser admitted the Government’s current plan could risk spreading coronavirus.

This was followed by a letter to the NEU from Chaand Nagpaul, on behalf of the British Medical Association (BMA) in which he said:

‘The NEU is absolutely right to urge caution, to prioritize testing and to protect the vulnerable. We cannot risk a second spike or take actions, which would increase the spread of this virus, particularly as we see sustained rates of infection across the UK.

We need to know more about the infectivity of children.

Until we have got case numbers much lower, we should not consider reopening schools.’

In Brighton and Hove, the following statement was agreed with trade unions representing heads, teachers and support staff. (National Education Union, National Association of Head Teachers, GMB and UNISON)

‘Following the government announcement of 11th May 2020 that schools should plan for possible re-opening to more students on 1st June 2020, the council are continuing to work in close partnership with schools, unions, and other stakeholders to support the work needed to ensure everything is safe for children and staff in all our schools. The safety and well-being of our children, teaching and support staff, and the wider community including parents, grandparents and carers must be the paramount consideration.  

Schools should only reopen to more students when risk assessments indicate this is safe to do so.   These risk assessments will be informed by the national picture in terms of transmission rates (the R rate), tracking tracing and isolation arrangements, joint unions published tests and testing capacity and more school specific details such as staffing levels; classroom space; physical distancing etc.  It is unlikely such assurances will be in place for schools by the proposed date of 1st June 2020.  

It is very important that your staff are invited to participate indiscussions and planning about wider school re-opening and whilst this involvementshould be encouraged, staff should not feel pressurised. Union advice not to engage in planning for a 1st June 2020 reopening should not preclude staff from being involved in discussions and planning for eventual school reopening when it is safe to do so. Finally, a reminder that no changes should be made to teaching and support staff’s current working arrangements without the full agreement of the staff concerned and consultation with relevant trade unions.’

Paul Shellard, Secretary of Brighton and Hove NEU said:

‘Our members care deeply about the children we teach and are very concerned about the impact of school closures on families. But nothing is more important than making sure our schools, the pupils we teach, their families and communities are safe.

School staff have been working hard throughout the crisis, providing a care service for the children of key workers and for vulnerable students, along with hastily- established distance learning opportunities.

It is time for the Daily Mail, and out-of-touch politicians and commentators, to show some respect for staff in school rather than denigrating them.’