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Responding to the statement on schools reopening NASUWT General Secretary Dr Patrick Roach said:

“The education of children and young people which is of paramount importance to the country can only be achieved if schools and colleges are able to operate safely.

“Teachers and headteachers have been calling for weeks for the Education Secretary to provide clear guidance and additional support. However, last minute announcements have been a characteristic feature of the Government’s handling of the pandemic which is not helping schools to deliver the best support and education possible for pupils.

“It has been abundantly clear throughout the autumn term that the pandemic is seriously impacting on the ability of all schools to continue to operate normally and safely. However, schools have faced continued and unnecessary uncertainty which has created huge anxiety for pupils, parents and staff which could and should have been avoided.

“The Government has belatedly accepted representations from the NASUWT that secondary schools and colleges should be permitted to restrict onsite provision to pupils who are vulnerable, together with children of frontline/key workers. However, the situation affecting primary and special schools will also be of serious concern to staff and parents, especially those in all Tier 4 areas, who will understandably be concerned about their safety.

“Whilst today’s announcement from the Education Secretary offers some belated clarity, it does not go far enough.

“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.

“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.

“The NASUWT is reminding school and college employers that, irrespective of the Government’s guidance or lack of it, they remain responsible and liable for health and safety in the workplace. Risk assessment measures must be urgently reviewed and updated in light of the new dangers that have been identified by the Government.

“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.

“The Government has a duty during this crisis to do whatever it takes to ensure that all schools and colleges are safe places for teaching and learning.”
 

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