Teaching unions have unveiled a list of key measures they believe must be met before pupils in England should be allowed to go back to school.
A supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), extra funding for deep cleaning classrooms and the power for local authorities to close schools again in the event of Covid-19 outbreaks in the area are all among the demands they believe must be met.
Unions are also calling for schools to remain shut until a successful nationwide track-and-trace scheme to identify those who need to quarantine is in place. A mobile phone app to help contact tracing was tested on the Isle of Wight this week, however technological and ethical issues have led to the parallel development of a second app.
Published by the Trades Union Congress (TUC), a joint statement was sent to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson from organisations including the National Association of Head Teachers and the National Education Union, as well as supporting unions Unison, GMB and Unite.
They further called for “clear scientific published evidence that trends in transmission of COVID-19 will not be adversely impacted by the reopening phase and that schools are also safe to reopen”.
“Parents and staff need full confidence that schools will be safe before any pupils return,” TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said.
“The government must work closely with unions to agree a plan that meets the tests we have set out.”Those discussions must include unions representing all school workers, not just teachers.”
Labour shadow education secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey further called on the government to “take heed” of the measures set out by trade unions.
“Schools should not open until it is safe to do so and the government must commit to work with trade unions and others to agree a set of principles and tests to put safety systems in place in advance of any planned reopening,” she said.
A spokesperson for the Department for Education has since responded to the news, saying: “Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has not set a date for schools reopening,”
“Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has not set a date for schools reopening.
“Schools will remain closed, except for children of critical workers and vulnerable children, until the scientific advice indicates it is the right time to re-open and the five tests set out by Government to beat this virus have been met.
“We are also working closely with the sector as we consider how to reopen schools, nurseries and colleges and will ensure everyone has sufficient notice to plan and prepare.”
NHS England’s national medical director Professor Stephen Powis confirmed at a daily Downing Street conference last week that the “science” behind the contribution of children to the spread of the virus is “still evolving”.
His comments followed those of the chief inspector of Ofsted Amanda Spielman on Sunday. She said she believed the interests of the nation’s youngest children would be best served by allowing them to return to school “as soon as possible”.
“It’s hardest for parents to work and do all the other things they need to do if they’re also looking after perhaps several young children at the same time and trying to make sure they work through schoolwork remotely,” she told Sophie Ridge on Sky News.
“If you look at the interests of children, it’s very clear that their interests are best served, in the vast majority of cases, by being back at school as soon as possible.”