Supporting families to keep their children at home during the lockdown, combined with enhanced safety protections for teachers and schools is the best way to ensure schools can reopen and stay open safely
Author: Dr Patrick Roach
Dr Patrick Roach became General Secretary of the NASUWT in 2020, following ten years as Deputy General Secretary and having worked for the Union since 1998.
We want to see schools and colleges reopen fully to all pupils as soon as it is safe to do so, but more than this, when schools do reopen fully we want them to be able to stay open. Keeping schools open sustainably and avoiding the repeated periods of self-isolation that have resulted in even further disruption to pupils’ learning means that additional safety measures and mitigations over and above those already in place last term are needed.
The Government needs to do everything possible to ensure that schools can continue to remain open free from the disruption caused by the pandemic. That’s why we have launched our ‘Vaccinate 2 Educate’ campaign, calling for teachers and other school staff to be given priority access to Coronavirus vaccines.
The NASUWT believes it is in the national interest that all teachers and education staff are prioritised for vaccination. Teachers and education staff are unable to practise social distancing from their pupils and few are provided with essential PPE. Many schools are continuing to operate through the lockdown with very high numbers of children and young people on site and alternative, special and nursery provision continues to operate as normal.
With provision for younger age children and for children with special and additional learning needs in particular, it is clear that there are additional risks present which are comparable to those that exist in the provision of health and social care. Teachers must also be identified as a priority group for the vaccine, alongside health and social care workers and those in high risk and vulnerable groups.
Of course vaccination alone is not enough to ensure schools and colleges can be covid-secure. We also need effective arrangements for the mass testing of pupils, provisions to support social distancing and the mandatory wearing of face masks and visors in all areas of schools and colleges. Schools also need additional funding to cope with covid-related costs and to ensure that no corners are cut on safety.
We also need urgent action here and now. In the context of lockdown 3.0 it is essential that the number of social contacts is drastically reduced to break the cycle of virus transmission., Yet, many more pupils are attending schools and colleges than during the first lockdown last spring, in part because of the Government’s mixed messages and its decision to expand the eligibility criteria. Many schools are also misguidedly expecting all staff to be on site every day. This risks jeopardising the safety and welfare of staff and pupils and undermining efforts to protect public health.
The Government must provide families with the financial and practical support to keep their children at home and employers must be called upon to ensure that as many staff as possible can stay at home and work from home.
We also need to see a national plan from the Government for the recovery of education and the economy which has safe schools and colleges at its core.
Taking all possible measures to ensure the safety of pupils and the education workforce now is the surest route to getting all children and young people back to school and using this time during lockdown to put in place the steps to ensure schools can stay open safely and sustainably once restrictions begin to ease. After the upheaval and anxiety of the last nine months this is the least our Government owes to our children, young people and those working in education.