Education union wants children to return to schools ‘when the time is right’

The Government is keen for reception, year one and year six pupils to return to school in June along

The Government is keen for reception, year one and year six pupils to return to school in June along with nursery and preschool children. - Credit: Archant

An education union has called socially distancing in classrooms ‘impossible’ as children prepare to go back to school.

The North Somerset National Education Union (NEU) branch does not believe it is safe for pupils to return en masse yet.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced schools could reopen to some year groups from Monday, beginning with nurseries and preschools, reception, year one and year six,

North Somerset Council has said it is letting heads and teachers make the decision about when to open.

Jon Reddiford, North Somerset branch secretary, said: “Government should be bound to protect all of us during this frightening and difficult time, yet the announcement about England pressing ahead with wider school opening flies in the face of this duty.

“We are not saying only go back when it is 100 per cent safe. Nothing ever is. But we are saying meet your own tests, produce sound scientific evidence, and return when the time is right to ensure the virus can be contained as much as possible.

“Heads, teachers, support staff and school staff have all been working through this challenging time. Schools have been open and contact has been maintained with families and the children they teach.

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“They have done so to support vulnerable children and children of key workers while their parents and carers keep the country going. This has been done bravely and willingly.”

An NEU survey revealed pupil numbers are at an average of two per cent across the country, with, 41 per cent saying their school cannot maintain regular handwashing.

More than half (53 per cent) of schools are not being offered appropriate personal protective equipment and 31 per cent believe the arrangements for cleaning their classrooms are inadequate.

Mr Reddiford added: “School staff have many questions which should be answered. Why, when the rest of the country is still required to observe social distancing, is it safe for schools not to? 15 pupils to a class makes social distancing an impossibility in our small classrooms and in particular with very young children who will not understand the concept.

“Denmark, who the Government quite rightly praise for their approach to wider school opening has a limit of five children when outside and three when inside.

“The final report from SAGE again casts grave doubt over the Prime Minister’s decision to press ahead with a wider opening of schools as it said ‘this decision threatens not just the health of school communities but also of wider society’. We fail to understand why the Government would take such risks.

“Time and again we have had to ask for the scientific thinking behind wider school opening. Time and again we have not had the answers.

“The Government’s Covid-19 strategy has drifted steadily from dither to disaster. Revelations in recent days have severely damaged public trust, and it is not only troubling but deeply insulting and dangerous to see schools being used as a distraction.”