Unions comment on increase in school closures

The Association of School and College Leaders and the National Eduaiton Union have commented on school attendance statistics published by the Department for Education, which show the number of secondary schools fully open has fallen from 92% to 84%

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We are extremely concerned to see a drop in the number of secondary schools fully open due to COVID cases and the resulting requirement for groups of pupils to self-isolate. This reflects the extremely difficult circumstances in which schools are operating amidst rising infection rates in the community.

“While there are some signs of improvement in accessing COVID tests and obtaining timely public health advice in the event of positive cases, we continue to receive reports from schools that problems persist, and this is not good enough. It is increasingly clear that schools have effectively found themselves on the frontline of managing the public health emergency, as well as delivering education, and the support simply has to be there.

“The pressure on school leaders and their staff is immense, and we are concerned that it is unsustainable over the long term, and will result in deteriorating mental health and wellbeing.

“The virus is an inescapable reality but there is much that the government can do to relieve associated pressures. It must reimburse schools for the costs involved in implementing safety measures to control the virus, clarify its plans and contingencies for next summer’s GCSEs and A-levels, suspend performance tables for this academic year, and postpone plans to resume Ofsted inspections in January.

“Schools need a greater sense that the government has grasped the scale of the challenge they face and that it is backing them up.”

Also commenting on the latest statistics, Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “With such a rapid drop in the number of fully open secondary schools in the space of just two weeks, it is clear the government’s grip on the situation is now in question. It is doubtful the urgency of the situation has yet dawned on either Boris Johnson or Gavin Williamson, who must now ensure that schools are colleges are equipped to deal swiftly and effectively with any outbreaks that occur on their premises.

“This does not just begin and end with testing, although that situation is parlous enough. We need to see the drafting in of retired, supply and newly qualified teachers to get class sizes down. ‘Nightingale classes’ will be necessary to expand school space – we have been calling for that since June. We also need proper funding support to schools, so that they can remain COVID-secure.

“The government’s inability to provide what schools need to ensure they remain open for as long as possible is unacceptable and will affect not only children’s education, but the wellbeing of staff and students.

“Some of the current partial closures will affect exam classes in years 11 and 13. It is time for the government to set out a Plan B for this year’s GCSE and A-Level students, not just so that it can be scrutinised but so that the public has some assurance that the Prime Minister and Secretary of State have any sense of direction at all.”

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