Coronavirus: Teaching unions warn against premature reopening of schools

Nicole Weinstein
Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Teaching unions have written to the Government urging them to exercise ‘significant caution’ when it comes to the reopening of schools.

Teaching unions are calling for for sufficient capacity to ‘test trace and isolate’ the virus as a prerequisite for school reopening
Teaching unions are calling for for sufficient capacity to ‘test trace and isolate’ the virus as a prerequisite for school reopening

The letter, sent by the British Irish Group of Teacher Unions (BIGTU) on behalf of almost one million teachers and education staff,  warns of the ‘very real risk of creating a spike in the transmission of the virus by a premature opening of schools’.

It has been signed by the general secretaries of 10 teacher trade unions across the UK and Ireland and has been sent to the education secretary Gavin Williamson in England, John Swinney, the cabinet secretary for education in Scotland, Kirsty Williams, education minister in Wales, Peter Weir, the education minister in Northern Ireland, and Joe McHugh, the education minister in Ireland.

The letter calls for sufficient capacity to ‘test trace and isolate’ the coronavirus as a prerequisite for school reopening, arguing that before such a regime is in place, it would be ‘catastrophic’ to the rate of infection.
Alongside this, the letter states that ‘significant operational changes’ need to be in place to ensure that schools can operate safely: effective social distancing; strong hygiene routines linked to thorough cleansing practices; appropriate PPE (personal protective equipment) available where required, and ongoing risk assessments in place to monitor operations.

‘This will mean that as schools cannot reopen as normal, a phased return will be required and priorities established around attendance, which is likely to be part time for most pupils,’ the unions warn.
The final point raised in the letter relates to the health and emotional wellbeing of all children, as well as those most vulnerable in society. The unions state, ‘We need to recognise, also, that potentially all children will have suffered a level of trauma as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and we would urge that the initial focus when schools reopen, in any capacity, should be on the health, well-being, and emotional resilience of our students.’

The unions include the National Education Union (NEU); NASUWT; the Educational Institute of Scotland; the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association; the University and College Union; Teachers Union of Ireland; the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland; the Irish Federation of University Teachers; the Irish National Teachers' Association; and the Ulster Teachers' Union.

In a separate letter addressed to ministers responsible for Higher Education and Further Education, the unions highlighted the following issues: emergency funding for the sector and the increased workload resulting in stress among teachers as they navigate their way around online teaching and student support.

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