Government urged to do more to protect schools from Covid-19

Katy Morton
Thursday, December 9, 2021

Teaching unions have criticised the Government for failing to put more safety measures in place to protect children and school staff from Covid, following the move by the Prime Minister to implement ‘Plan B’ in the fight against the virus.

Teaching unions are calling on the Government to put more protections in place for children and staff working in schools where Covid-19 cases are continuing to rise PHOTO Adobe Stock
Teaching unions are calling on the Government to put more protections in place for children and staff working in schools where Covid-19 cases are continuing to rise PHOTO Adobe Stock

Unison, GMB, Unite and NASUWT have joined forces to call on the Government to better protect children, teachers and support staff from Covid in schools in the lead up to Christmas.

With increased uncertainty due to growing cases of the Omicron variant and rising classroom absences because of coronavirus, the four unions are urging the Government to act ‘without delay’ to minimise disruption by introducing additional safety measures.

The teaching unions want ministers to provide schools with air filtration devices for use wherever airflow problems are detected and to make face masks mandatory in all areas of secondary schools.

They also want staff who need to isolate due to Covid to receive full pay and are calling for extra resources for schools to contact pupils and families who have been in close contact with a positive case, as NHS Track and Trace no longer does this routinely in schools.

The teaching unions have organised a day of online activities to encourage staff, parents and pupils to lobby politicians to persuade the Government to being in these extra measures. They will be writing to their MPs, tweeting and posting photos on social media with speech bubbles with the slogans Protect education and Protect Pupils.

It comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson held a press conference last night (8 December) announcing the Government is implementing ‘Plan B’ to try and reduce the spread of coronavirus over the winter period, which includes advice to work from home, the introduction of Covid passports for large events and extending the legal requirement for face masks. The move follows the emergence of a new coronavirus variant – Omicron.

Ofsted has also paused inspections of early years settings, schools and colleges until next year. However, the NEU and NASUWT unions have written a letter to the education secretary asking him to postpone the return of inspections until after February half term to give schools a chance to ‘deal with the anticipated fallout of the Omicron variant’.

As of 25 November, more than 200,000 pupils were absent from school for Covid-related reasons. On top of this, reports suggest an additional 77,000 children aged two to 16 are suffering with long covid.

Teaching unions are concerned that education staff are also more likely to test positive for Covid-19 than the general populating, which they say could lead to ‘unsustainable workload pressures and burnout.’

Unison’s assistant general secretary Jon Richards said, ‘It’s not too late for ministers to introduce additional measures to protect pupils, staff and their families before Christmas.

‘Omicron is spreading fast. If ministers are serious about face-to-face teaching then they need to act immediately so schools are safe for pupils and staff.’

Unite national officer Jim Kennedy added, ‘School staff are once again on the frontline of the pandemic. The minimum the Government should be doing is to bring in extra safety measures to protect them.’

'Plan B needed for schools'

The National Education Union (NEU) has separately called on the Government for a ‘Plan B’ for schools, which it says should include making children with a sibling or other household member with Covid-19 take a PCR test and only return to school when they receive a negative result, as is the rule in Scotland.

Labour’s new shadow schools minister Stephen Morgan MP has also criticised the Government for its ‘failure to implement ventilation measures in schools’, which it says is ‘pushing them to open windows despite plummeting temperatures and causing energy bills to rocket.’

Nursery World Print & Website

  • Latest print issues
  • Latest online articles
  • Archive of more than 35,000 articles
  • Free monthly activity poster
  • Themed supplements

From £11 / month

Subscribe

Nursery World Digital Membership

  • Latest digital issues
  • Latest online articles
  • Archive of more than 35,000 articles
  • Themed supplements

From £11 / month

Subscribe

© MA Education 2022. Published by MA Education Limited, St Jude's Church, Dulwich Road, Herne Hill, London SE24 0PB, a company registered in England and Wales no. 04002826. MA Education is part of the Mark Allen Group. – All Rights Reserved