Teaching unions call for ‘immediate’ move to remote education for all pupils

4 January 2021, 07:39 | Updated: 4 January 2021, 09:12

Teaching unions have called for an ‘immediate’ move to remote education for all pupils
Teaching unions have called for an ‘immediate’ move to remote education for all pupils. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Teaching unions have called for an "immediate" national move to remote education for all primary, secondary and college pupils.

In a joint statement released on Monday, unions including GMB, NAHT, NASUWT, NEU, Unison and Unite urged the government to "pause" the reopening of schools this week for all but vulnerable pupils and children of key workers.

The group claimed that sending children back into classrooms while England's coronavirus infection rate is so high exposes those in the education sector "to serious risk of ill-health and could fuel the pandemic".

Unions also demanded that all school staff who continue to be asked to work should receive Covid-19 vaccinations as a priority.

They suggested Prime Minister Boris Johnson sit down and discuss a strategy with unions to ensure schools are safe to work in, rather than the UK leader "casually asserting" that they are.

Read more: Primaries across most of England reopen despite Covid rate concerns

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The joint statement read: "The government's chaotic handling of the opening of schools has caused confusion for teachers, school staff and parents alike.

"Bringing all pupils back into classrooms while the rate of infection is so high is exposing education sector workers to serious risk of ill-health and could fuel the pandemic.

"Unions have called for a pause in the reopening of schools for anyone other than vulnerable children and children of key workers, and a move to remote learning for all while Covid-secure working arrangements are reviewed.

"All school staff continuing to work in schools should be given priority access to Covid-19 vaccinations.

"Instead of casually asserting that schools are safe, the prime minister should sit down with unions to discuss a joint approach to ensuring safe working arrangements in all schools and prioritising enabling all pupils have the equipment and access they need to receive a high standard of remote learning until the safety of them and the staff in their school can be guaranteed."

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TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady said: "The government's own advice from Sage makes it clear that opening schools to all pupils now risks increasing the infection rate. That's in no-one's interests.

"Instead of creating chaos for parents and exposing workers to risks, the Prime Minister should be talking to trade unions about what steps are needed to make sure all schools are Covid-Secure."

Commenting on the joint statement, NASUWT General Secretary Dr Patrick Roach said: "The NASUWT is completely committed to ensuring that children can return to school as quickly as possible.

"However, it is now abundantly clear that the pandemic is seriously impacting on the ability of all schools and colleges to continue to operate normally.

"The NASUWT is calling for an immediate nationwide move to remote education for all pupils in primary, secondary and special schools and colleges."

However, the children's commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, said she agrees with Boris Johnson's decision to keep most primary schools open this week.

"As a matter of course I think that needs to be a last resort, it needs to be for an absolute minimal amount of time as possible.

"And also that time needs to be really well used to get very good testing regimes set up in schools, but also vaccinations for teachers as a priority."

It comes as primary schools across most of England, except for those in London and some surrounding areas, reopened today despite concerns over Covid rates.

Mr Johnson said he has "no doubt" that classrooms are safe and parents should send children back to schools in England which remain open.

But parents and teachers face a "confusing picture" according to NAHT's general secretary, with local authorities calling on the government to delay children returning to classrooms.

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