Schools need PPE before they can reopen, Unions warn
Unions have sent a list of key measures to the government which they say must be met before pupils in England can safely return to their classrooms.
It includes extra money for deep cleaning and personal protective equipment (PPE) and local powers to close schools if clusters of coronavirus infections break out in a particular area.
The demand comes after an NHS England chief warned ministers to be wary about reopening schools too early as there is not enough known about the extent of coronavirus transmission between children. National medical director Stephen Powis said the science about how pupils pass Covid-19 on is ‘still evolving’ and the government needs to exercise caution about the return date,
The joint statement from unions was sent to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson on Friday. It called for ‘clear scientific published evidence that trends in transmission of Covid-19 will not be adversely impacted by the reopening phase and that schools are also safe to reopen’.
The tests that the school workforce unions said were ‘essential’ to have in place before pupils return include. Safety and welfare of pupils and staff as the paramount principle. No increase in pupil numbers until full rollout of a national test and trace scheme. A national Covid-19 education taskforce with Government, unions and education stakeholders to agree statutory guidance for safe reopening. Consideration of the specific needs of vulnerable students and families facing financial hardship. Additional resources for enhanced school cleaning, PPE and risk assessments. Local autonomy to close schools where testing indicates clusters of new Covid-19 cases.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘Parents and staff need full confidence that schools will be safe before any pupils return. ‘The Government must work closely with unions to agree a plan that meets the tests we have set out. ‘Those discussions must include unions representing all school workers, not just teachers. ‘The best way to do this is through a national taskforce for safe schools, with government, unions and education stakeholders.’ Health Secretary Matt Hancock has vowed the government would only allow pupils to return when it was safe to do so.
The government has said schools will have phased reopening when lockdown starts to lift. Reports suggest this could start as early as June. Schools across the UK closed in the last week of March as part of measures to prevent the virus spreading. Boris Johnson is set to unveil his plan to exiting lockdown in an address to the nation on Sunday evening. The government has stressed any immediate changes will be implemented with ‘maximum caution’ after reports suggested restrictions could be lifted from Monday. Leading the No 10 news conference on Friday, Environment Secretary George Eustice said there would be ‘no dramatic overnight change’ and the government would be ‘very, very cautious as we loosen the restrictions we have’.