Unions comment on new restrictions for schools

The Association of School and College Leaders and the National Education Union have responded to new lockdown guidance for schools released by the government

Commenting on the lockdown guidance for schools issued today by the Department for Education, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Schools and colleges have been waiting for this guidance since the Prime Minister’s announcement on Saturday, and it is frustrating that it has taken so long to arrive given that they now have to digest and implement these measures in a short timeframe.

“The Prime Minister spoke today about it being a moral duty to keep schools open, and we agree it is the right priority, but the government also has a moral duty to support schools, and timely guidance is an important part of delivering on that duty.

“The guidance means it will now be mandatory for face coverings to be worn in the communal areas of all secondary schools and colleges.

“This extension to the rule on face coverings is a sensible response to rising COVID levels, and will act as an extra level of protection on top of the other safety measures in schools. It is vital that this requirement is respected by all parents and pupils. The vast majority are supportive, but we are aware of schools receiving objections from some parents to existing policies.

“It is frustrating that there is still no information on what circumstances would trigger the government’s own contingency plan for rota systems in secondary schools. We appreciate that this is not the intention during the national lockdown but given that the situation is clearly precarious then clarity would be helpful.

“The guidance clarifies that clinically extremely vulnerable staff and pupils should not come into school or college. This is absolutely the right decision, but it will mean that there are more staff missing from the workplace, on top of those who are self-isolating.

“It is imperative that the government reimburses schools and colleges with the cost of hiring supply cover for staff absence. We have received reports of schools having to spend £6,000 per week on supply cover, and this situation is going to become worse. Schools and colleges cannot sustain these costs.

“The guidance allows for after-school provision for the purpose of childcare but not for after-school clubs. We understand the public health basis for this decision, but we are concerned about the extent to which activities such as sports clubs are again being curtailed by the impact of the pandemic.

“The government’s education recovery planning does need to take into account the impact of these restrictions on health and wellbeing.”

Commenting on updated guidance published today ahead of a second national lockdown, detailing new requirements for face coverings amongst other measures, Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “With grating familiarity, the government has once again delivered new guidance to schools at the eleventh hour.

“The growth of virus cases in secondary schools is shocking, with cases 50 times higher on October 23 than at the start of September. Cases were also nine times higher in primary schools. The virus levels are leading to many children being sent home as bubbles close.

“Clearly the government needs to find ways to break transmission networks in schools and colleges.  It must prioritise schools for access to rapid turnaround tests like those being trialled in Liverpool, and should be making plans for secondary schools and sixth form colleges to move to a rota operation where children are taught every lesson but are at home some of the time.

“It is absolutely right for the government to say that clinically extremely vulnerable staff and students should be working at home. 

“Requiring face coverings when moving around secondary schools is welcome, but their use more widely must be considered and other measures must be taken on social distancing.  Much more needs to be done to make schools and colleges safe.

“We cannot afford this government’s constant slow responses. The opportunity for a circuit-break at half term was squandered. Now we have this second lockdown, which will not work if schools and colleges stay open without the safety measures needed to prevent the steady rise in cases which ultimately spreads to the wider community. We need more extensive solutions and in particular a plan for rota operations after we emerge from this late lockdown.”

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