Union tells teachers not to engage with school reopening plans

The gates of a closed school in North Yorkshire. Adam Vaughan / Shutterstock.com

Teachers and other school staff have been told to not ‘engage’ with plans for school reopenings next month, with a union claiming that the government’s plan to bring the UK out of lockdown is ‘too fast, too confusing and too risky’.

The National Education Union (NEU) has advised members to tell headteachers they were “[awaiting] further advice from [their] union” if they were asked about their availability for wider working after 1 June.

On Sunday, the Prime Minister told the nation that it was hoped pupils in reception, year one and year six would be able to return to school next month, provided the Covid-19 infection rate continued to decrease. Pupils in other year groups were expected to return to school in phases.

However, in the letter to members published by the Mirror, the NEU said: “So far the government has not engaged with us to discuss any further advice on social distancing, testing in schools, PPE or about those who are vulnerable, including BME staff.

“No school or college can make plans based on the information we currently have from government.

“Our strong advice is that, on this basis, you should currently not engage with any planning based on a wider reopening of schools.”

Commenting on the publication of a guidance document for schools yesterday, NEU joint general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said: “The National Education Union want schools to move to a wider opening as soon as it is safe to do so, but it is not safe yet. This timetable is reckless. This timetable is simply not safe.”

She said head teachers had been “inundated with questions and queries” from staff and parents.

“The government has stoked teachers’ anxiety and triggered real confusion because the announcement is inconsistent on the importance of social distancing and how or whether it can be achieved in schools.

The National Education Union want schools to move to a wider opening as soon as it is safe to do so, but it is not safe yet. This timetable is reckless. This timetable is simply not safe,” – Dr Mary Bousted, National Education Union

“The NEU is advising our school leader members today that we are in no position to start planning for wider opening yet. This reckless and rushed approach has created a level of uncertainty and stress for school leaders which is simply unmanageable,” Bousted said.

Guidance for the sector said schools and nurseries would likely need to reducing the size of classes and keep children in small groups, without mixing with others; stagger break and lunch times, drop offs and pick ups; increase the frequency of cleaning; reduce the use of shared items; and utilise outdoor space.

The Department for Education said it was asking schools and childcare providers to plan on the basis they will open on 1 June, ahead of further scientific advice.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson said: “The latest scientific advice indicates it will be safe for more children to return to school from 1 June, but we will continue to limit the overall numbers in school and introduce protective measures to prevent transmission.

“This marks the first step towards having all young people back where they belong – in nurseries, schools and colleges – but we will continue to be led by the scientific evidence and will only take further steps when the time is right.”

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