Teachers hold the line: the phased re-opening of schools affects us all

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National Education Union Press Statement in response to Prime Minister Boris Johnson's announcement on relaxing of the lockdown and the phased return of schools

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 [1], with extensive arrangements for testing and contact tracing to keep it that way [3]. 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 [2 and 4]. 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 [5], 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.

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.

NEU press release - 10 May 2020

Find out more about the National Education Union campaigns:

The #FiveTests laid out by the NEU are very sensible and should be adopted by all. The tests are.

  • Test 1 : Much lower numbers of Covid-19 cases
  • Test 2 : A national plan for social distancing
  • Test 3 : Testing, testing, testing!
  • Test 4 : Whole school strategy
  • Test 5 : Protection for the vulnerable

Read more here

The NEU has also released a powerful report authored by the joint national secretaries of the union, which you can read more about below:

Coronavirus, pupils and schools: unanswered questions

Over the last six weeks, we have written three times to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Education outlining concerns that our members and parents and carers of children in our schools have raised about the crisis. We have asked the Government to share its evidence and modelling with us. We have asked for the publication of peer-reviewed science. So far we have received no response.

The questions we have put to Government are listed in this report. We have also listed references to scientific papers and studies that confirm that there are real issues to be addressed. For example, a study from the University of East Anglia that says: “School closures in Europe had the greatest association with a subsequent reduction in the spread of the disease. And empirical evidence has emerged from Denmark suggesting an increase in community transmission following opening of schools.

The science on Covid-19 is developing all the time – but it is incumbent on the Government to take the people into its confidence. The Government must answer our questions; they are reasonable and sensible and are asked in good faith on behalf of educators, our pupils and their families. We all want schools to be reopened – but this must be when it is safe for them to do so.

The Government must address the concerns of staff, parents and the wider community. Further, it should meet our Five Tests, which we believe it must demonstrate it has passed before any wider reopening of schools.

Dr Mary Bousted
Joint general secretary National Education Union

Kevin Courtney
Joint general secretary National Education Union

Read the report in full here

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  1. How disgusting that the U.K. government has totally ignored this document set out to protect our young people from pre & reception years, throughout school & onto further education. They are our future adults, those who will take our country forward. If the tax paying, working people of our country received a similar document from the government & refused/failed to respond they would be sending out a very strongly worded demand for an answer. What parents WANT & deserve, is agreement to their very reasonable demand for protection while our children are in their care. They appear to be contemptuous of parental views & rights.

  2. Unfortunately, the pm doesn’t really care about the fact that children will either contract the virus or carry it to pass on. They just want the parents back to work to save furlough payments! Disgusting!

  3. I am really concerned for children, parents, siblings and teaching staff.
    Young children ,and some with special Education needs can not be taught to not touch other, not to soil social distance etc.
    Teaching staff can’t be kept safe and they have tried so hard to battle through and look after those who may be vulnerable and also children of front line staff. These staff can no way wear protection and neither can the children. Everybody is going to be potentially at risk.
    All young children and special needs children going back in one go is just ludicrous and frankly asking for trouble

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