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Unions rule out school re-opening until national coronavirus test and trace scheme rolled out

Unions are calling for track and trace to be rolled out before schools re-open (PA)

2 min read

The country’s biggest education unions are calling for no increase in pupil numbers at schools until the national test and trace scheme is rolled out.

It is one of a number of principles and tests they say the Government must pass before it embarks on a phased re-opening of schools shut due to coronavirus.

A joint statement from the GMB, NAHT, NASUWT, NEU, UNISON and Unite has been published via the Trades Union Congress (TUC) ahead of Boris Johnson’s announcement on the next phase of the UK’s lockdown.

They have written to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson saying the safety and welfare of pupils and staff must be “the paramount principle”, and calling for a national Covid-19 education taskforce to agree statutory guidance on unlocking classrooms.

The unions are also asking for special consideration of vulnerable students and families, additional resources for enhanced school cleaning and PPE, and for local autonomy to close schools if there are clusters of new cases of the virus.

Currently schools are closed to all pupils except the children of key workers, but there is speculation they may begin to re-open on June 1

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Parents and staff need full confidence that schools will be safe before any pupils return.

“The government must work closely with unions to agree a plan that meets the tests we have set out. 

“Those discussions must include unions representing all school workers, not just teachers.”

And Karen Leonard, national officer at the GMB, said her union’s members in schools “are genuinely frightened for themselves, their loved ones, pupils and colleagues”.

She added: “The Government must give them the confidence that they can safely continue doing the job they love educating pupils in schools.  

“Our message is this: Mr Johnson your home work is set. You say you will follow the science, well give us the evidence and we will mark your efforts based on the science as to whether wider opening of schools will be safe.”

In response a spokesperson for the Department for Education said: “Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has not set a date for schools reopening.

 “Schools will remain closed, except for children of critical workers and vulnerable children, until the scientific advice indicates it is the right time to re-open and the five tests set out by Government to beat this virus have been met.

 “We are also working closely with the sector as we consider how to reopen schools, nurseries and colleges and will ensure everyone has sufficient notice to plan and prepare.”

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