Boris Johnson Faces Calls To Admit How Many Teachers Have Been Killed By Covid-19
The National Education Union is calling on the Prime Minister to urgently publish the number of teachers and school staff who have been infected, hospitalised or killed by Covid-19.
In a fraught day for school workers, parents and pupils who have faced days of uncertainty over whether their schools will remain open, the NEU said it's time the government were clearer about the threat to staff.
Primary schools in some Tier 4 areas did not return for the spring term today and instead have a planned phased return for later in January after coronavirus cases soared in the week between Christmas and New Year.
Boris Johnson has resisted widespread school closures, insisting that children are safe in schools, and teachers are no more at risk of the virus than any other adult. There is also concern that children can further the spread of Covid-19 within communities.
However it is now believed that some areas might move into Tier 5, which could mean the closure of schools altogether with a shift to online learning for the forseable future. The Prime Minister is expected to release further details in a televised address to the nation tonight.
In a letter sent on November 27 2020 to schools minister Nick Gibb, NEU joint general secretaries, Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, asked for specific figures on staff illness and coronavirus. So far they have not received the numbers.
They said it was part of his department's duty of care to education staff to provide the number of teachers and support staff who have tested positive, those who have been hospitalised and the number of teachers and support staff who have died since September.
Dr Bousted, told PoliticsHome: "Boris Johnson is keen to give the impression that teachers, heads and school staff are at no greater risk from Covid, but his government has dragged its heels in publishing the data to back that up.
"In November we asked the Department for Education to make public what they hold on infection rates, hospitalisations and deaths of education workers in relation to Covid. Answer came there none.
"Either the Prime Minister knows the answer, or he's making things up as he goes along. We hope it is not the latter. In any case it is a disgrace for any Government to show such reluctance in answering what should be a simple question.
"With the nation in such a dire situation, Boris Johnson must now give full disclosure."
In a letter to the minister sent in November - before the new variant was identified - the NEU asked for schools to move to a rota operation to try and continue learning.
However since then, they have called on all primary schools to move to remote learning for the first two weeks of January except to vulnerable children and the children of key workers.
They have provided members with a model letter to inform head teachers that it is unsafe for them to be in school – "in crowded buildings with no social distancing, no PPE and inadequate ventilation".
Health secretary Matt Hancock told the BBC this morning: "As far as teachers are concerned, I know that they have done a remarkable job of keeping education open as much as possible and there is no evidence there is a higher rate of infection amongst teachers as amongst any other profession.
However he said that when schools are open, the disease spreads more easily and closing "is an absolute last resort".
Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveal that 46 teaching and education professionals died from the virus between March 9 and May 25 last year, although it is not known how many contracted the virus at their workplace.
Teachers known to have died include father-of-three Paul Hilditch, 55, who taught at Conyers School in Teesside. It is not known where he picked up the virus.
UNISON is also calling on the government to release any data they have relating to the case numbers, hospitalisations and deaths of their members. The union represents a number of support roles including school administration staff, finance officers, lunchtime supervisers, school cooks, caretakers and teaching assistants.
UNISON head of education Jon Richards said: "Covid has hit school support staff as badly as other workers. They're also at higher risk from the virus. Many are off sick or suffering long-term health issues, and others have sadly died.
"It's vital the facts showing the true toll are made publicly available."
A Department for Education spokesperson said the Office for National Statistics collects data on behalf of the government on deaths by occupation, and their latest records are up until May 25 2020. They are due to publish updated information ‘in due course’.
The DfE is separately collecting data on teacher absences due to Covid and this information will be published soon.