Education unions question Government over decision to delay reopening of schools

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Education unions have taken the Government to task following the announcement that secondary pupils will return to schools later than scheduled after the holidays.

On Wednesday, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said the reopening of schools will be delayed to allow for Covid-19 mass testing preparations for pupils and staff.

This means, exam year students will return on January 11, with other secondary school students to follow a week later on January 18.

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And while the majority of primary schools will open as scheduled on January 4, some primaries in areas with the highest infection rates will not open on that date, as a return date has yet to be determined.

The return of many schools will be delayed to allow for mass testingThe return of many schools will be delayed to allow for mass testing
The return of many schools will be delayed to allow for mass testing

Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, Dr Mary Bousted said such a decision will only put the primary pupils and staff at risk as they return to schools on Monday.

She said the Government has not published the scientific guidance on the risks involved in school and college reopening, as the new variants of the virus are more transmissible.

She said: "Uniquely school and college staff are being required to work in overcrowded buildings, with no effective social distancing, no PPE and inadequate ventilation.

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"We would like Gavin Williamson to explain, if schools are not centres of transmission, why school age pupils are now the most infected age groups?

"Why is it that primary age children are the second highest infected of all age groups or that levels of infection amongst secondary pupils have multiplied by 75 times since the start of September?"

She said the Government should have at least emulated the Government in Scotland which have decided not to reopen schools until January 18 at the earliest.

NASUWT, The Teacher's Union General Secretary Dr Patrick Roach said a stronger preventative action is needed to limit the further transmission of the coronavirus in schools and colleges, including enabling the greater use of remote and blended learning which would enable effective social distancing which is vital to minimising virus transmission.

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“Given the acute challenges posed by the new variant of the coronavirus, the introduction of mandatory wearing of face masks or visors within school and college buildings must also be considered, together with additional provision of personal protective equipment (PPE).

“Despite new national tiering arrangements, there is still no confirmation from the Government regarding the additional actions that all schools and colleges will need to take to minimise the spread of the virus and to protect vulnerable staff and pupils.“The Government must immediately confirm that all education staff who are clinically extremely vulnerable, together with staff in other high risk groups, will be required to stay at home and work from home pending further progress in reducing virus transmission levels."

He said whilst mass testing in secondary schools and colleges is welcome, the tests themselves need to be accurate and provision for mass testing must be accompanied by additional personnel on the ground.“Relying on virtual support from military personnel is not a basis for delivering a robust and reliable programme of effective mass testing in schools.“A commitment from the Government to prioritising teachers and education staff for access to the Covid-19 vaccine is also necessary to deliver on the Education Secretary’s ambition to keep schools and colleges open,” he said.

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor.