UNISON urges co-operation over reopening schools

‘Headline-catching announcements’ are not dealing with the practicalities needed to ensure that pupils can return to school safely, says union

Staff serving school meals to pupils

UNISON is calling on the government to work with the union urgently, to help ensure that schools can re-open safely in the autumn.

The prime minister has announced an easing of lockdown and the relaxation of the two-metre social distancing rule ​from 4 July. But reducing social distancing to “one metre plus” (one metre, in conjunction with other measures, such as face coverings and hand washing) still won’t allow schools to function normally.

The union says that huge practical problems need to be overcome to ensure that:

  • schools are cleaned properly, by the right staff;
  • school meals are delivered safely;
  • teaching assistants are not exploited;
  • playground supervision is controlled; and
  • vulnerable and disadvantaged students can get the support and catch-up they need.

There also needs to be a functioning test, trace and isolate policy.

In a recent survey of around 9,000 school support staff, over 80% knew nothing about how the government’s current system would work for them.

UNISON head of education Jon Richards said: “Understandably, many people are desperate to get out of lockdown and get their children back into school.

“We also need the economy to recover, to pay for decent public services and avoid mass unemployment.

“But we must also do everything to avoid the risks of a second wave of infections, which would be dangerous for pupils, public health and the wider economy.

“Instead of detailed plans to help schools prepare for the autumn term, all we have seen so far is headline-catching announcements, which put all the pressure and blame on schools, staff and their unions,” he added.

“We call on the government to work with us urgently to plan for the return of as many pupils as possible from the start of the autumn term, while ensuring that children, young people and school staff are safe to do so.”

COVID-19 advice for schools staff

Press release: Easing of lockdown must happen slowly