Union chiefs are now warning teachers it will ‘not be safe’ to mark pupils’ books when schools reopen, while casting yet more doubt on the government’s plans to bring children back to primary schools next month.
Staff who are members of the UK biggest teaching union will be told to go through a 20-page checklist with their bosses before returning to work.
They will only be deemed safe if there is a ‘yes’ answer to every question, say the National Education Union (NEU).
It comes as a third council in England is set to defy official advice to reopen schools in June. Schools in Bury will not reopen ‘while high levels of Covid-19 remain’.
Following growing opposition to the plan to reopen primaries to certain year groups from June 1, Bury council says that while high levels of the infection remain in the north west, ‘the borough will not be re-opening schools on June 1’.
Unclear guidance around practical arrangements for social distancing within schools, as well as concerns over testing and tracing, and supply of PPE, were listed as other reasons for refusing to open.
Unions and the government are continuing to clash over plans to reopen primary schools by June 1.
But the NEU, which has more than 450,000 members, has cast fresh doubt on the government’s plans, which were confirmed by Education Secretary Gavin Williamson over the weekend.
Union bosses have told members it is ‘extremely unlikely’ that primary schools will reopen on June 1.
Staff who are members of the UK biggest teaching union, the National Education Union (NEU) will be told to go through a 20-page checklist with their bosses before returning to work
In a new document, named the Planning Guide for Primary Schools, seen by MailOnline, the NEU has challenged the government’s plan to use micro-groups – similar to the system used in Denmark – which will reduce the need to keep students and teachers more than two metres apart.
The NEU instead is urging strict two metre social distancing measures remain in place – as is being done in other workplaces.
The planning document also includes a 20-page safety checklist, written jointly with fellow unions, Unite, Unison and GMB, which it will urge its members to go through with bosses before they return to schools.
Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, which has produced a Planning Guide for Primary Schools which could reopen on June 1
Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the NEU, said: ‘Our checklist incorporates and builds on the Government’s own toolkit for primary school wider opening. That is what makes our checklist rigorous.
‘It is designed for use when it is safe to open schools nationally. It sets out the standards which teachers, school staff and parents should expect to be met before the head teacher decides that the school is safe to open more widely.’
He added: ‘Teachers and support staff will be responsible for ensuring safe practices are implemented, as young children will not be able to do so themselves. Parents would expect nothing less.’
It comes as Paul Whiteman, head of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), today urged the government to reveal the level of risk to pupils, teachers and parents before plans to mitigate it can be discussed.
His comments come after Education Secretary Gavin Williamson demanded unions ‘do their duty’ and let children start returning to the classrooms, with the government aiming to reopen primary schools as early as June 1.
Speaking on Radio Four today’s programme, Mr Whiteman, whose union represents 31,000 school leaders, said: ‘I think what needs to be recognised first of all is that teachers and school leaders do want to see pupils back to class.
Paul Whiteman (left), head of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said the government must lay out the level of risk to pupils, teachers and parents before plans to mitigate it can be discussed. Education Secretary Gavin Williamson (right) has demanded unions ‘do their duty’ and let children start returning to the classrooms
Schools have been partially closed since March following the outbreak of coronavirus in the UK
What safety measures are planned to reduce coronavirus in schools?
Ministers have unveiled a raft of measures to keep pupils who do return to school safe from coronavirus.
- Classes of no more than 15 pupils
- Socially distanced desks
- Children told to only mix in small groups, with those groups not mixing with others.
- Increased and regular cleaning of schools
- Staggered lunch and break times
- Staggered arrivals and departures
- Packed lunches
- No shared classroom equipment
‘We’ve been engaging along with other unions and with the department for education to discuss exactly how this can be done and how it can be done safely.
‘What our school leaders are very concerned about is schools becoming centres of transmission and this is the question we want more clarification on, specifically around transmission from children to adults.
‘The government has asserted publicly that their isn’t the risk of transmission we fear. There’s been some commentary but we haven’t seen the science underpinning that. ‘
Mr Whitehead also invited the government to write to him setting out the science behind the decision it makes with regards to reopening of schools.
Meanwhile, Mr Courtney also made similar calls for the government to share the science behind its decisions with teaching unions.
He also hit out at some of the science behind the government’s previous decision in relation to coronavirus, describing it as ‘wrong’ and claimed it had ‘cost lives’.
Kevin Courtney (pictured), the head of the UK’s biggest teaching union the National Education Union (NEU), has also called for the government to share the science behind its plans to reopen schools while speaking on Good Morning Britain today
Speaking on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, Mr Courtney, whose union represents over 400,000 school staff, said: ‘We want to see the science in public so that scientists can comment on it.
Young children ARE as likely to get coronavirus as adults, says deputy chief medical officer
Dr Jenny Harries warned children are one of the two groups that are potentially at risk of contracting the virus, but said they ‘don’t get as ill’ and are ‘less likely to pass it on’, during Saturday’s coronavirus news briefing.
Previous research has shown infants are not as likely to become infected by coronavirus than adults and, if they do, show milder symptoms, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Dr Harries said: ‘There are two groups that are at potential risk here, one are children.
‘We think that children probably have the same level of infection, we are just going through that data now with the ONS (Office of National Statistics) survey, but they don’t get as ill.
‘We rarely see children in hospital in proportion to the older population.
‘And for younger children as well, the evidence is still growing but there may be some evidence that they are less likely to pass it on.’
‘That would give confidence if the science is support, but also I think some of the British science has gone wrong that the government advice has been based on.
‘So far our government has abandoned community testing when they shouldn’t have done, we went into lockdown too late, we had Cheltenham Festival when we really shouldn’t have done and there have been mistakes which have costs lives.’
The comments come as yesterday ministers urged unions to work with them to get schools up and running by June 1 after a study found better-off children are doing 75 minutes a day more home learning than the poorest.
The danger of the coronavirus lockdown widening the gap with the most disadvantaged pupils was highlighted in research by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS).
Meanwhile, academies and the Church of England have heaped pressure on unions by warning that delay damages the prospects of children who can least afford it.
The chief executives of 22 academy trusts warn schools must reopen soon to avoid ‘irreparable’ damage to vulnerable children.
Cabinet minister Michael Gove yesterday escalated the row by telling union leaders: ‘If you really care about children, you will want them to be in school.’
Mental health charities have also raised concerns that time spent away from friends will be damaging to childrens’ mental health.
Michael Gove yesterday escalated the government’s row with unions by saying: ‘If you really care about children, you will want them back in schools.’
Asked today if some local authorities could be penalised if they fail to reopen schools, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: ‘We are working with them to try and ensure that that doesn’t happen and to address those concerns.
‘It’s in the children’s interest to get them back to school and I hope that we can address the concerns that they have.’
Britain’s head teachers’ union has backed plans for schools to reopen on June 1 following meetings with key government advisers.
The Association of School and College Leaders claim teachers were no more at risk than any other profession heading back to work as coronavirus lockdown restrictions ease.
Over the weekend, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson outlined the plans for reception, year 1 and 6 to return from June 1.
He insisted that pupils ‘stand to lose more by staying away from school’.
He outlined measures schools will take avoid a surge in the killer disease which has killed 34,500 people in the UK and infected 241,000.
Measures include small classes and keeping children in small socially-distanced groups.
Father shares image of his daughter, 5, in hospital with deadly Kawasaki disease and warns against reopening schools – but WHO chief scientist insists there’s NO clear link between coronavirus and ‘rare’ syndrome
A teacher has shared a photo of his five-year-old daughter fighting for her life in hospital with Kawasaki disease just five weeks after she beat coronavirus.
Piers Roberts, from Wakefield, Yorkshire, said his stepdaughter Scarlett’s battle with the diseases was a warning to the government against reopening schools, after Boris Johnson announced some would be reopened from June 1.
Mr Roberts said his family have been left ‘broken’ after Scarlett suddenly fell ill and contracted Kawasaki disease, with the schoolgirl given just a 20 per cent chance of survival.
He added that Scarlett – known to the family as ‘Moo’ – caught coronavirus in school before the lockdown and he now warns that reopening schools would turn them into ‘deaths camps’ for children.
Piers Roberts said his family have been left ‘broken’ after Scarlett suddenly fell ill and contracted Kawasaki disease, with the schoolgirl given just a 20 per cent chance of survival
However, the World Health Organisation’s chief scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan insisted today that there was still no clear link between coronavirus and the rare disease.
Symptoms of Kawasaki disease include swollen blood vessels, fever, rash, red eyes, dry or cracked lips or mouth, redness in the palms and on the soles of the feet, and swollen glands.
Scarlett was ‘fit and well’ for six weeks before suddenly suffering multi organ failure and being rushed unto hospital, her father added.
Speaking on ITV’s Good Morning Britain today, he said: ‘We understand that it’s a link to the coronavirus we’re not sure what that is fully, we hope with all our minds that its a rare one. In order to raise some awareness and improve the trust we need to know if this is a complication that’s maybe more prevalent then we’re told at the moment.
Mr Roberts, from Wakefield, Yorkshire, said his stepdaughter Scarlett’s battle with the diseases was a warning to the government against reopening schools, after Boris Johnson announced some would be reopened from June 1.
‘It’s the worst situation I’ve been put in, my pain pails in comparison to her mother’s whose at her bedside.
‘We need trust, these situations might be a rare complication, but it doesn’t help the trust of parents putting kids back in schools it doesn’t help teachers.
‘That trust needs to be there, if it’s a rare complication that’s good but we must stay informed so other people do not have to go through this torturous time.’