--> Serious Concerns with the Reopening of Schools
Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 50 Number 36, September 19, 2020 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Workers' Forum

Serious Concerns with the Reopening of Schools

Teachers, support staff and other education workers are facing huge challenges as schools have re-opened. They have been rising to face these challenges with honour, but they are doing so in the face of great difficulties caused by the government's recklessness and irresponsibility. The government is constantly trying to negate the human factor, while the teachers have been doing their utmost to welcome back pupils into a safe environment and act with the utmost social responsibility. They have been obliged to cover for absent teachers, learn new teaching methods with online learning or hybrid teaching, all the time under great strain from the inconsistent and often contradictory "guidelines" handed down from on high. The teachers are in the main holding their heads up high, and are rebutting in action any accusations that their concerns are harming the children's education. We reproduce below some reports of the difficulties and challenges.

NEU accuses Johnson of failing staff, parents and young people on school safety

The National Education Union (NEU) on September 11 accused the Prime Minister of failing staff, parents and young people on school safety.

On the day the Office of National Statistics announced that Covid-19 cases had risen by 60% in the previous week, the union's joint general secretaries have written to Boris Johnson and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson demanding that schools are safe for pupils and staff.

In June, they wrote to Johnson outlining their proposals for an Education Recovery Plan. Britain was at the height of lockdown and the plan provided a route map for safe wider reopening of schools and colleges in September. They did not receive a reply.

Joint general secretaries Kevin Courtney and Dr Mary Bousted said: "Boris Johnson has had three months to get a grip on the practical realities of getting schools and colleges open and keeping them safe. He has failed staff, parents and young people. His wilful disregard for advice offered to him, matched with his regular displays of blind optimism, are an insult to everyone in the community.

"School and college leaders, teachers and other staff are worried about access to tests, with many being advised to travel hundreds of miles to obtain one. This is not a sustainable way of coping with outbreaks. Schools and colleges must have quick access to trace, track and test, and not be continually confronted with obstacles that should have been resolved months ago.

"It is vital government does everything in its power to permit schools and colleges to remain open, for as many young people as possible, for as long as possible.

"We want schools to be open, and to stay open. But we also want them to be safe. Our plan gives the nation the best chance of achieving that aim."

In the letter to Boris Johnson, the NEU highlights the following most critical measures needed to be taken by government to ensure schools and colleges operate as effectively as possible through national, regional or local Covid-19 spikes.

(Union News)

Teachers Say the Testing Crisis Is Already Hitting Schools So Hard They May Have to Close Down

Teachers have described the chaos of the coronavirus testing crisis now hitting schools, with some saying the diffculties caused by those unable to get tests is already so severe they may have to shut their doors.

Testimony sent to the National Association of Headteachers by school staff, seen exclusively by PoliticsHome, has revealed the impact of children and their parents missing up to 10 days of school as they self-isolate after struggling to get tests.

Teachers say they are now having to consider whether to keep schools open as testing options become increasingly limited and people are being directed hundreds of miles from their homes to test centres.

Emily Proffitt, head of Cooper Perry Primary in Staffordshire and who sits on the national executive of the NAHT, told Politics Home: "My big concern is the sporadic nature of learning now. It will be disjointed. We are doing the best we can in a very challenging situation that we have no control over.

"I've had children off for five days as their parents try and get them a test. Another parent came to get their child at the gate and said their dad is presenting symptoms and it doesn't look like they can get a test, so she said I'll just have to see you in two weeks. So a child that's just come back to school, [...] is now missing two weeks.

"I've also got a real concern parents are going to get fed up with this. So far they are brilliant, reporting symptoms and taking their children out of school but if they can't get tests they are obviously missing work as well, so will they send in their children with symptoms?"

She said many children may have coughs and colds which typically happen in the autumn term but she has to suggest parents get their children tested, and added that some of her staff had been able to get tests done over a weekend at the start of the month. She worries that if they cannot be screened in the future they might also be absent because of isolation.

Schools have been issued with ten testing kits from the government but they are only to be used in an absolute emergency and reserved for the most vulnerable children whose parents or carers may not take them for tests.

One head teacher in Birmingham told the union: "I am beginning to need to use my emergency test kits - two given out so far, some schools I have spoken [to] are already down to their final one. I've heard that there is no plan to issue schools with any more.

"As the re-opening of schools relied on the availability of rapid test and trace, I am considering our position on the safety of keeping my school open once I am down to the last few test kits, especially when parents are being directed to Scotland or Oldham currently as their 'nearest test centre'."

A head teacher from a primary school in Northern Ireland told the union that they are now struggling to staff classes.

"One of our teachers presented with symptoms and has still not been tested, two days later. Two of our special needs assistants have also been waiting several days for a test. As they both support very vulnerable pupils, these children are being disadvantaged with learning as we have not been able to employ replacements."


NAHT, 4 in 5 Schools Have Pupils Isolating Because of Lack of Tests

Paul Whiteman, NAHT General Secretary

Headteachers have reported that pupils at more than four in five schools are isolating because they can't get access to a Covid test.

A survey of 736 school leaders by the leadership union NAHT found that 82 per cent of schools have children currently not attending because they cannot access a test to rule out Covid-19, while 87 per cent have children not in attendance because they are waiting for their test results. Meanwhile, 45 per cent of schools report they have staff currently not at work because they cannot get a test to rule out Covid.

The survey also found that 14 per cent of respondents have had confirmed cases of Covid-19 in their schools since the start of term.

The Financial Times reported that scientists advising the government have proposed a two-week national lockdown in October to coincide with the half-term break.

The number of new confirmed coronavirus cases in England has risen sharply in the past few weeks from less than 2,000 on September 1 to over 3,000 last week.

Paul Whiteman, the NAHT's general secretary, said "chaos is being caused by the inability of staff and families to successfully get tested when they display symptoms".

"Tests for covid-19 need to be readily available for everyone so that pupils and staff who get negative results can get back into school quickly," he added.

Whiteman last week wrote to the Prime Minister with mounting concerns about the impact the lack of access to covid-19 tests is having on schools.

There is growing unrest over the government's handling of a recent spike in demand for tests, which test and trace boss Baroness Harding claimed had been unforeseen.

Schools Week has revealed how a coding glitch caused by the government's "failure" to carry out proper software testing is further hampering attempts to get tests.

The NAHT warned that the lack of testing capacity is also affecting staff - with 45 per cent of schools reporting they had staff currently not at work because they cannot get a test to rule out Covid, and 60 per cent with staff staying home awaiting the results of a test,

Overall, 94 per cent of schools have children who have had to stay at home due to suspected or confirmed cases of covid-19 this term, and 78 per cent have staff who have had to self-isolate at all this term.

The survey also found that when pupils have suspected or confirmed cases of Covid, most schools (70 per cent) have sent home individual pupils only, while only 7 per cent have had to send home whole classes. Five per cent reported sending home whole year groups, and 4 per cent sent home small groups of pupils. Just 0.3 per cent reported having to close their school.

(Schools Week)


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