Government should listen to independent scientists and pull back from 1 June start date

Reopening must wait until it’s safer

Commenting on the report on school safety from the committee of independent scientists chaired by Sir David King published today (Friday), UNISON head of education Jon Richards said:

“This is the evidence school staff and parents have been waiting for. Not only do these scientists say the government’s plans for schools in England are premature, they also suggest any risks to children would be halved by waiting a fortnight.

“Ministers need to heed these concerns, stop doggedly pushing schools to meet the arbitrary 1 June deadline, and ensure proper tracking and tracing is up and running first.

“There are real concerns the government is gambling with the safety of pupils, staff and the wider community.

“It makes no sense for ministers to push schools to open more widely in England, while other parts of the UK take a more considered approach.

“It’s time ministers took a step back and delayed any moves to increase the number of pupils in schools until it’s safer to do so.”

Earlier today, UNISON – which represents caretakers, administrative staff, teaching assistants, cleaners and caterers – published the results of a survey of more than 45,000 school support staff.

This found an overwhelming majority don’t feel reassured by government claims that English schools are safe to open to more pupils at the start of next month, and that ministers’ rushed back-to-the-classroom plans aren’t putting safety first.

Workers’ confidence in their own schools’ ability to be ready for a wider opening in June was low. Just over three quarters (77%) didn’t feel their school would have the resources to cope with the additional responsibility of putting health, safety and risk assessments in place in time.

Support staff – which make up more than half of the schools’ workforce – were also concerned about the impact of a rushed return on their own children.

Of those with school age children, 95% said they didn’t feel it was safe to send them back to school. One worker said she was ‘petrified’ at the thought of her seven-year-old going back.

UNISON is concerned that because support staff tend to be older, are disproportionately from the BAME community and come from more disadvantaged backgrounds, they are more at risk from the virus.

Notes to editors:
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union, with more than 1.3 million members providing public services – in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, private and voluntary sectors.

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