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Government making it up as it goes along on reopening schools – teaching union

UK News | Published:

Mary Bousted, of the National Education Union, said schools should not be reopening on Monday.

Pupil in class

The Government has revised its plans to reopen schools 41 times since May 12 because of errors in judgment, an education union leader has claimed.

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), has added to calls for ministers to rethink the reopening of schools in England from Monday.

Ministers have said their five key tests required for the easing of lockdown have been met – and schools will admit more pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6.

School tables
Some schools have marked off tables to ensure pupils sit apart (Jacob King/PA)

The prerequisites for lockdown easing were: Ensuring the NHS can cope; a “sustained and consistent” fall in the daily death rate; the rate of infection decreasing to “manageable levels”; ensuring testing and PPE supplies can meet future demand; and ensuring any future adjustments would not risk a peak that could “overwhelm” the NHS.

Ms Bousted argued the five tests have not been met, and she pointed out that members of Sage, the Government’s scientific advisory body, including Professor Peter Horby, have voiced the same opinion.

Prof Horby, chair of the New Emergency Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG), along with fellow Sage scientists Sir Jeremy Farrar and Professor John Edmunds, said ministers are taking a risk by easing lockdown restrictions on Monday.

Findings from a recent PA news agency survey of local authorities show that more than 20 councils across England – predominantly in the north – are also advising schools not to open to more pupils this week, with some citing fears that the NHS Test and Trace system will not be “robust enough” to help.

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Speaking on the Sophy Ridge show on Sky News on Sunday, Ms Bousted said children should instead return to school on June 15 when the infection rate should be lower.

She said: “The Government’s plans on reopening schools since they were first produced on May 12 have been changed 41 times. And that’s because they’ve constantly had to be revised as things they have forgotten, things they didn’t know, and things they got wrong had to be added in.

“That’s hugely added to the stresses of school leaders and teachers, because we have a Government simply who they think is just making it up as it goes along.”

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She added the Government’s latest plans have “given up on social distancing in schools” by favouring “cohort distancing” where children are taught in groups of 15 by one teacher.

She warned: “Those children live in families who from tomorrow will be able to go out and socialise with six other people.”

Devi Sridhar, professor of global public health at Edinburgh University, said schools need to be considered in a similar way to hospitals and care homes in terms of testing.

“What we want to be having is actually testing in schools,” she told Sophy Ridge.

“We need to be treating schools like how we’ve been treating hospitals and care homes. These are institutions that need to be monitored and teachers need to be tested, older students need to be tested. We don’t have yet those, you know, monitoring systems in place.”

Meanwhile, shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds warned that parents must not be put in a difficult position if they feel it is unsafe for them to send their children back to school.

Ms Dodds told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show: “I think it is really important now that we enable people to take the right decisions around this.

“That if individual schools feel that they are not ready, that they are given the support so that they can get to the stage where they are ready.”

Shadow communities secretary Steve Reed added that schools should not open in areas where it is not yet safe to do so.

Speaking on the Sophy Ridge show, he said: “We want schools to open as soon as possible, because that is the best thing for children, but we don’t want schools to open in areas where it isn’t safe.”

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