The National Education Union and the Association of School and College Leaders have commented on the Prime Minister’s announcement on changes to lockdown, including the possibility of schools reopening on June 1
Commenting on the Prime Minister’s announcement on changes to lockdown, Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “We think that the announcement by the government that schools may reopen from June 1 with reception and years 1 and 6 is nothing short of reckless.
“Coronavirus continues to ravage communities in the UK and the rate of Covid-19 infection is still far too great for the wider opening of our schools.
“A study published last week by the University of East Anglia suggested that school closures are the single most effective way of suppressing the spread of the virus.
“If schools are to re-open, we need the government to meet the five tests we have set to keep children, their families and our staff safe.
“There must be much lower numbers of Covid-19 cases, with extensive arrangements for testing and contact tracing to keep it that way. This test has manifestly not been met.
“We must have a national plan for social distancing, hygiene, appropriate PPE and regular testing to ensure our schools and colleges don’t become hot spots for Covid-19. This test has manifestly not been met.
“And there must be plans drawn up to protect vulnerable staff, or those who live with vulnerable people, to stop more educators or members of their families dying of this dreadful disease.
“We are supported in this by nearly 400,000 staff and parents who have signed our petition to reopen schools only when it is safe. And Parentkind, one of the largest parents’ groups in the UK, back our tests too.
“We have written three letters to the government for the science around school reopening, to share the modelling it is using and discuss the concerns raised by our five tests. We have received no reply.
“If schools are re-opened to blatant breaches of health and safety, we will strongly support our members who take steps to protect their pupils, their colleagues and their families. The worst outcome of any wider re-opening of schools is a second spike of Covid-19 infection.
“Our members care deeply about the children they teach – and no-one is more aware of the struggles faced by vulnerable pupils, or those from vulnerable families, than their teachers. If schools cannot safely re-open, we need other ways of supporting those children. For instance, the better weather gives us a chance for some education to take place outdoors, where children are least likely to pick up infection.
“The NEU will survey its members immediately after the Prime Minister has spoken to gauge their reaction to this announcement.
“We urge the government to follow the example of the Welsh and Scottish governments who have made the decision not to re-open schools at this time.
“Now is the time for government to listen and do the right thing.”
Commenting on the Prime Minister’s speech and the phased reopening of schools, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We are concerned about the idea of reopening primary schools to significantly more children after half term.
“It is not clear to us how the reintroduction of such significant numbers of pupils in primary schools can be safely managed, particularly considering that reception and year one comprise very young children with whom social distancing is extremely difficult.
“And we are worried that personal protective equipment in schools has so far been dismissed, leaving an over-reliance on social distancing in environments where this is inherently problematic.
“We are not trying to impede the reopening of schools. Throughout the crisis we have highlighted the importance of bringing in more pupils when the time is right to do so and there is a clear plan in place to manage it safely.
“Unfortunately, we are not persuaded that either of these two simple tests has yet been met.
“We welcome the Prime Minister’s assurance that this timescale is not set in stone and will be postponed if necessary, and we will continue to work constructively with ministers and officials, as we have done throughout this crisis.”