Teachers and school leaders’ unions respectively call on the government to close schools and colleges during the 4-week national lockdown and on transparency about the risks to children, families and school staff in keeping them open.

First published in October 2020.

The National Education Union (NEU) calls for schools and colleges to be closed during the 4-week national lockdown decided by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday, and for rotas to be introduced at the end of the lockdown period. Though the teachers’ union says that schools should remain open to the children of key workers and vulnerable children during the general closure period.

Pointing to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics, Kevin Courtney, NEU’s Joint General Secretary said:

It is clear from ONS data that schools are an engine for virus transmission. It would be self-defeating for the Government to impose a national lockdown, whilst ignoring the role of schools as a major contributor to the spread of the virus.

“Such a lockdown would impose pain on the whole community – but not be as effective as it could be if schools were included. Ignoring the role of schools and colleges in the spread of the virus is likely to lead to the need for even longer lockdowns in future.

“The latest figures from the ONS estimate that 1% of primary pupils and 2% of secondary pupils have the virus and that these levels have increased dramatically since wider opening in September. NEU analysis of ONS figures shows that virus levels are now 9 times higher amongst primary pupils and an astonishing 50 times higher amongst secondary pupils.

“The National Education Union called for a two week circuit break over half term to include schools, which the Wales Government and the Northern Ireland assembly have done – but the Government in Westminster has ignored this call. More severe measures are now called for as a result, the Government should not make this mistake again.”

As for the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), the trade union serving school leaders in all sectors of education in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, it agrees that “in the face of a worsening situation, it is right to prioritise keeping pupils in school.”

However, Nick Brook, NAHT’s Deputy General Secretary, says that the government needs to be wholly transparent about the risks to children, families and school staff of doing so, and give clear guidance on what additional measures schools may have to take in order to keep everyone safe.

It is highly likely that the number of pupils that are unable to attend school will continue to increase until the rate of infection begins to fall again. Schools will do everything they can to deliver a full and interesting curriculum to pupils who are asked to remain at home.”

Comparison of attendance rates between primary and secondary schools since September suggests that older children have been more affected by the rise in infections. Unfortunately, that means that pupils in examination years are most likely to have their education disrupted as this situation continues.

“Yet despite best efforts, online education is proving to be a poor substitute teacher. Put simply, children learn best when in school. At a time when we should be talking about how best to support pupils to catch-up lost learning, we are instead faced with the challenge of ensuring that they do not fall even further behind.

“Government now need to accept that reliance upon a summer series of exams in 2021 is a wholly inadequate solution. We must be confident that the continued disruption to education this year does not result in the award of grades that do not fairly reflect students true ability. Future opportunities and life-chances of 16 and 18 year olds must not be limited as a result of government dithering.🔷

PMP News reporting.


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[This piece was first published in PMP Magazine on 31 October 2020. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]

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