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Teaching union ‘tries to sabotage school reopening plan with impossible list’ of 200 safety demands

Teacher union bosses have been accused of trying to throttle government plans to reopen schools next month with a 200-long list of safety demands.

The National Education Union has provided its half a million members with a ‘checklist’ of Covid-secure measures which its institution should be enforcing.

If these demands are not met, and concerns are not acted upon, the union urges staff to ‘escalate’ their quarrel.

But MPs last night ripped into the 25-page ‘wrecker’s charter’ which they said could thwart the Prime Minister’s ‘national priority’ for classes to resume.  

MPs last night branded the 24-page document a ‘wrecker’s charter’ which could thwart the PM’s ‘national priority’ for classes to resume (pictured at The Discovery School in July) 

Today NEU president Amanda Martin said she believed the union had been 'on the right side of history' and stood by the checklist

Education select committee chair Robert Halfon MP branded the criteria 'impossible'

Today NEU president Amanda Martin said she believed the union had been ‘on the right side of history’ and stood by the checklist. Education select committee chair Robert Halfon MP branded the criteria ‘impossible’

Education select committee chair Robert Halfon MP branded the criteria ‘impossible’ and told the Sun on Sunday: ‘It is incredible not one of these 200 nitpicking questions asks the most important thing of all – what’s best for the kids?’ 

The demands, which the NEU claim to have adopted from Department for Education guidance, include questions such as: ‘Will lidded bins with double bagging be available in every classroom and work area?’

Another asks: ‘Has the school agreed that any staff required to quarantine in September as a result of holidays booked prior to the Government’s quarantine announcement will be able to work at home or be allowed paid leave of absence?’

The unions were blamed for blocking ministers’ initial efforts to reopen schools before the summer holidays after expressing deep safety concerns.

The National Education Union has provided its half a million members with a 'checklist' of Covid-secure measures which its institution should be enforcing

The National Education Union has provided its half a million members with a ‘checklist’ of Covid-secure measures which its institution should be enforcing

But today NEU president Amanda Martin said she believed the union had been ‘on the right side of history’ and stood by the checklist.

She told Times Radio: ‘This is people’s safety. What costs safety? I as someone who works in Portsmouth and received the information from my Portsmouth school have had those checklists back where governors and heads and staff have worked together. 

‘It’s about ensuring confidence, it’s about ensuring safety and if that means that’s going through those 25 pages and have conversations about ‘what would happen if this happened?’, then that’s exactly what we need to do and plan, planning is essential.’ 

Quizzed about whether the NEU is given teachers the green light to go back to lessons next month, Ms Martin added: ‘We have said that schools should be ready to open in September.

‘We have a number of meetings in the last week of August, we have asked our reps to look at the brand-new checklist that came out right at the end of summer term and we need to see what it means in regards to the scientists. 

‘We have asked the scientists to give us some modelling so we can make sure schools can be as Covid safe as possible.’

She added: ‘The fact that the government are coming out this morning saying we’re a national priority is a really positive thing’. 

COVID DEATHS/CASES 

TOTAL DEATHS: 46,574

LATEST DAILY:  8 NEW DEATHS

TOTAL CASES: 310,825

LATEST DAILY: 1,062 NEW CASES 

Schools minister Nick Gibb today said he had been consulting with the unions, although said they did not always agree. 

In the checklist’s preamble, the document states: ‘Union reps should seek meetings with school leaders in order to discuss plans for full opening. 

‘School leaders’ difficult responsibility will be assisted by comprehensive union input. Consultation must start as soon as possible and allow for improvements to be made to those plans. 

‘If unfortunately there is a either a failure to consult, or members’ concerns are not being addressed, then this should be escalated.’ 

It came as a landmark coronavirus study found the risk of transmission in classrooms is minimal, ratcheting up pressure on the Education Secretary to fully reopen schools in September.

Boris Johnson is understood to have warned that Gavin Williamson’s ‘head will be on the chopping block’ if pupils are not back in lessons next month.

The Prime Minister has declared resuming classes a ‘national priority’ and is planning an advertising blitz to urge anxious parents to send their child back to school.

His campaign was yesterday bolstered by encouraging scientific evidence which found a low threat of catching infection in schools.

Government Sage adviser Professor Russell Viner outlined the forthcoming Public Health England study and stressed that reopening schools was ‘imperative’.

‘A new study that has been done in UK schools confirms there is very little evidence that the virus is transmitted in schools,’ he told the Sunday Times.

‘This is some of the largest data you will find on schools anywhere. Britain has done very well in terms of thinking of collecting data in schools. 

Pupils pose NO RISK of spreading Covid, study reveals – as Gavin Williamson ‘faces the chop if he doesn’t get schools open again in September’ and PM warns keeping them home is worse for them than coronavirus

By JACK ELSOM and JOE MIDDLETON FOR MAILONLINE and GLEN OWEN POLITICAL EDITOR FOR THE MAIL ON SUNDAY

A landmark coronavirus study has found the risk of transmission in classrooms is minimal, ratcheting up pressure on the Education Secretary to fully reopen schools in September.

Boris Johnson is understood to have warned that Gavin Williamson’s ‘head will be on the chopping block’ if pupils are not back in lessons next month.

The Prime Minister has declared resuming classes a ‘national priority’ and is planning an advertising blitz to urge anxious parents to send their child back to school.

His campaign was yesterday bolstered by encouraging scientific evidence which found a low threat of catching infection in schools.

Government Sage adviser Professor Russell Viner outlined the forthcoming Public Health England study and stressed that reopening schools was ‘imperative’.

‘A new study that has been done in UK schools confirms there is very little evidence that the virus is transmitted in schools,’ he told the Sunday Times.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is under pressure to deliver on the Prime Minister's promise and 'his head will be on the chopping block' if he does not succeed

The rallying cry will further crank up the political pressure over the issue, which is fast becoming a totemic test of the Government’s ability to reboot the economy and move the country safely out of lockdown

Boris Johnson (right) is understood to have warned that Gavin Williamson’s  (left) ‘head will be on the chopping block’ if pupils are not back in lessons next month 

‘This is some of the largest data you will find on schools anywhere. Britain has done very well in terms of thinking of collecting data in schools.’  

Labour, the unions, and the Children’s Commissioner have all today voiced support for the principle of schools reopening in September.

But thorny issues such as routine testing and the wearing of masks remain – which were both today slapped down by the schools minister.

As the reopening of schools was bumped to the top of ministers’ agenda: 

  • Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield called on the government to introduce regular testing for all students and staff in schools;
  • Labour’s shadow education secretary Kate Green said she supports getting children back to school in September, but said the government needs to ramp up its track and trace system; 
  • New research laid bare the damaging educational impact on pupils who have missed schooling during the lockdown; 
  • The coronavirus death toll rose by 55 yesterday, to 46,556, compared to a rise of 74 last Saturday, while 758 new infections were reported, 13 fewer than a week ago; 
  • Scientific advisers warned that the UK-wide reproduction rate, R, is between 0.8 and 1.0, the point at which the virus starts spreading exponentially again; 
  • Oxford University researchers developing a vaccine were embroiled in an ethics row about whether to deliberately infect human volunteers – and warned that although there was a 50 per cent chance of a jab being available next year, it was likely to be only partially effective and carry side-effects; 
  • A survey found that barely half of the adult population is committed to being immunised against Covid-19; 
  • France is on the brink of joining the list of countries from where British travellers will have to go into quarantine upon their return; 
  • Young people in Preston were being urged ‘don’t kill Granny’ as the city was subjected to new lockdown measures following a spike in infections; 
  • Up to 16 children and staff were forced to isolate at home after a coronavirus outbreak at a nursery in Bury, which has also been put into local lockdown.

Prof Viner, also president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said keeping schools shut would take a further toll on both young people’s academic attainment and mental health.  

Mr Johnson’s words come after Dr Mary Bousted, head of the National Education Union, urged schools to ignore ‘threatening noises’ from the Government and refuse to reopen if they feel it is unsafe

Gavin Williamson

Ministers are poised to lock horns with union bosses who have unveiled a list of demands if teachers are to go back next month. Mary Bousted, head of the National Education Union, (left)  urged schools to ignore ‘threatening noises’ from the Government and refuse to reopen if they feel it is unsafe

Mr Johnson outlined similar concerns in an article for today’s Mail on Sunday where he heralded the resuming of lessons a ‘moral duty’ and ‘crucial’ for pupils’ ‘welfare, their health and for their future.’

Minister rejects Children’s Commissioner’s  calls for regular testing in schools  

The government’s schools minister has slapped down calls from England’s Children’s Commissioner to introduce routine testing when schools reopen in September.

Nick Gibb today said students and staff would only be tested if they displayed symptoms.

But Anne Longfield earlier called for checks to become ‘part and parcel’ of school life and suggested they should be done weekly.

She told Times Radio: ‘I think it needs to be as regular as it needs to be for the infection to be caught… certainly not one-offs but regular occurrences so they’re part and parcel of the running of a school.’

But speaking on the same programme, Mr Gibb later said: ‘Anybody who shows symptoms in schools will be tested, not routine testing, the advice we have is it’s better when people show symptoms.

‘If they test positive the people that pupil has been in contact with will be self-isolating.

Everything we do is led by the science, the priority for the new 90-minute tests has to be the new hospitals and laboratories, the measures we are putting in place, the hierarchy of controls is the most effective measures of the virus.’

He wrote: ‘The education of our children is crucial for their welfare, their health and for their future. That is why it is a national priority to get all pupils back into school in September.

‘The message I have given to Ministers and civil servants is this: we can do it – and we will do it. Social justice demands it.’

He spoke of the ‘uplifting sight… as millions of parents rose to the challenge of educating their children’ amid the added pressures of lockdown, but said that had to end. 

The PHE study, which tested more than 20,000 pupils and 100 teachers, is hoped to allay the concerns of wary teacher unions, which thwarted ministers’ initial attempts to resume classes for fears of staff catching the virus.

Union bosses were last night accused of ‘nit-picking’ after releasing an exhaustive list of 200 safety demands. 

The National Education Union has urged its 450,000 teachers to ‘escalate’ action if their schools do not adhere to their 200-strong Covid-secure checklist.

The demands included assurances the working day will not be lengthened, children waiting to be picked up to be kept isolated, and support for staff suffering workload anxiety. 

Education select committee chair Robert Halfon MP last night hit out at the demands and told the Sun on Sunday: ‘It is incredible not one of these 200 nitpicking questions asks the most important thing of all – what’s best for the kids?’ 

But today Amanda Martin, co-president of the NEU, said there is no price on safety, and pointed out that they had been urging their members to plan for the reopening in September. 

She told Times Radio: ‘I think the NEU right from the beginning has been on the right side of history by saying schools should remain open to key worker kids and the most vulnerable.

‘We have half a million members, we have had schools open all the way through lockdown and we have been supporting them with checklists… We have said schools should be ready to open in September.’

She said her union has requested information from Sage and the government for a risk assessment about reopening schools in September.   

Prof Viner, a member of Sage, insisted reopening schools was a non-negotiable, even if it meant sacrificing other freedoms as a trade-off.  

The desperate need to prioritse education was endorsed by Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield, who said in the event of future lockdowns schools should not be closed as a default to save ‘disruption to the lives of adults’.

She today threw her weight behind Mr Johnson’s bullishness to reopen schools, even if it meant pubs were sacrificed. 

Speaking to Times Radio, she said: ‘Children have been out of schools for five months… There was a moment I thought children have been forgotten in the relaxation.

‘They must reopen and they must stay open so if there are future lockdowns they are the last to close and first to reopen.’

Quizzed if that meant people should be restricted from indoor drinking in pubs, she said: ‘I’ve talked about that when decisions need to be made in future lockdowns,  it makes absolute sense if there’s a limited amount of social interactions before infections are raised.’

She said she was ‘dismayed’ that theme parks and even zoos were opened before schools, but said she is pleased that the PM has bumped resuming lessons to the top of the government’s agenda. 

Ms Longfield said that regular testing should become ‘part and parcel’ of school life from next month.

She said: ‘I think it needs to be as regular as it needs to be for the infection to be caught… certainly not one-offs but regular occurrences so they’re part and parcel of the running of a school.’

But this was slapped down by schools minister Nick Gibb, who said only those who developed symptoms would be tested.

The minister this morning told Times Radio: ‘Anybody who shows symptoms in schools will be tested, it won’t be routine testing… the advice we have is it’s better when people show symptoms.

If they test positive the people that pupil has been in contact with will be self-isolating… Everything we do is led by the science… the priority for the new 90-minute tests has to be the new hospitals and laboraties, the measures we are putting in place, the hierarchy of controls is the most effective measures of the virus.’

On masks, he added: ‘These kind of issues will be up to head teachers, but there’s no need for masks to be worn within schools if the hierarchy of controls, the measures I have outlines, are in place.’

Labour expressed support for the reopening of schools in September, but surged the government to support teachers by bolstering the test and trace infrastructure. 

Shadow education secretary Kate Green said: ‘I think it’s essential that schools open in September and that all pupils are expected to be back in the classrooms.

‘I do think the Government could be doing more to support them (teachers) particularly, for example, making sure we’ve got a really robust Test and Trace system in place.

‘The work is being done to make schools safe but more is needed to support those schools, they may need extra resources for example for extra clearing or to stagger the school day or to make sure children can travel to and fro safely.

‘The Government has a window between now and the beginning of September to get that right and it absolutely must do so.

‘It’s really, really important that we don’t write off a generation of Covid children – they need to be back in class, the whole of our futures depend on this.’  

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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