COVID-19 GOVERNMENT PLANS FOR THE OPENING OF SCHOOLS
On 11th May, the Government and the Department for Education (DfE) published guidance following the announcement by the Prime Minister on 10th May of the potential for some relaxation of the current COVID-19 restrictions with regard to schools opening from 1st June 2020.
The NASUWT always reflects carefully on the content of guidance issued by the Government before making statements to members, to ensure that our advice is informed and based on fact, not media and other speculation. This is particularly important when dealing with the life-and-death situation presented by the global pandemic.
The NASUWT’s overwhelming priority and concern is the health, safety and welfare of members, and it is in that context that the Government and DfE guidance has been reviewed and considered by the Union.
Our review has highlighted a number of fundamental concerns, not least that the DfE guidance is inadequate and incomplete and lacks detail on a number of critical issues relating to the health and safety of staff in schools and colleges. Furthermore, the DfE guidance is inconsistent with guidance issued by the Government for other workplaces and workers. The scope of the Government proposals for nursery and primary schools opening are particularly concerning, and whilst the proposals for secondary schools appear more limited, in all circumstances we believe there are serious health, safety and welfare issues for staff and pupils which have not been addressed.
The NASUWT is raising our very serious concerns with DfE officials and the Secretary of State for Education.
Over the next few days, we will be issuing updates and guidance to members as the situation develops.
From the queries we have received from members since the Prime Minister’s announcement, it is clear that some schools have clearly misunderstood the Prime Minister’s words and are providing staff with misinformation and misdirection as a result.
Members should be aware of the following:
There is no change to the current COVID-19 restrictions for schools at this point in time. There should be no increase in the number of pupils or staff going into schools, or any requirement for any teacher not currently in school to go into work at this time. Members who face pressure from schools to do so should contact the NASUWT immediately for advice and support.
1st June 2020 is the date from when schools may be able to extend their opening arrangements. It is neither a fixed nor hard-and-fast date by which all schools must open, and there is no current requirement or obligation on any school to open to more pupils from that date.
Schools are not in a position to make any meaningful preparations or finalise any plans for opening schools at this time, as the DfE has not issued all the required guidance. Planning by schools can only take place when the full suite of information has been issued by the DfE.
Even when schools are in a position to put plans in place, no final decision can be made by schools to open or extend the number of pupils in school. The Government guidance makes clear that ‘We will only do this provided that the five key tests set by Government justify the changes at the time…’ and so there are no guarantees that there will be any change to the current circumstances after 1st June.
The NASUWT has produced detailed advice and guidance for members that sets out clearly the steps schools will need to take. Members are asked to make sure they have read the health and safety checklist (https://www.nasuwt.org.uk/advice/health-safety/coronavirus-guidance/ requirements-for-reopening-of-schools.html) issued on 8th May in anticipation of the Prime Minister’s statement.
The NASUWT is continuing to survey members’ opinions regularly, and we have been clear to the Government from the outset that the overwhelming majority of our members are opposed to any premature opening of schools and that members are also deeply concerned and anxious about the Government’s preparations to extend the opening of schools.
The NASUWT has been consistent and clear in its view that, in a situation where the wrong decision will result in people becoming seriously ill and dying, there can be no compromise on health and safety. If this means that schools are unable to open safely before September, because they are unable to make arrangements to safeguard their staff and pupils, then that position must be accepted.
Nothing that has been said by the Government or the DfE has changed the NASUWT’s position that no teacher should be expected to go into a school that is not safe, and until it can be demonstrated that it is safe to do so, we will be continuing to support and advise members on that basis.
Dr Patrick Roach