Union leader tells Nigel Farage that schools are safe to return

17 May 2020, 13:41 | Updated: 17 May 2020, 16:31

By Seán Hickey

After sitting in on a SAGE meeting, this teacher's union boss told Nigel Farage he is confident that schools are safe to resume in June.

Geoff Barton is the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders and he joined Nigel Farage after sitting in on a SAGE meeting and shared what he learned to assure teachers about the planned return of schools in June.

Concluding from his time at the meeting, Mr Barton told Nigel that "we should be working towards bringing small groups of children back into schools in a phased way" and was confident that based off what he was told by the experts, schools were safe to return under social distancing measures.

The general secretary began by explaining to Nigel that the frustration of teachers up to this point was "that there are too many things here that we haven't got the knowledge about" and for him to be invited to a meeting of scientific and medical experts was a good way to reassure the industry.

"If we're to reopen there are some things we need to know about" he said, and stressed that this was the reason he believes he was invited to SAGE, "not to listen to policy makers but to listen to the chief scientific advisors and put questions to them."

He admitted that "behind the scenes school leaders have been doing contingency plans" on how to reopen safely after the coronavirus peak passes and his role to sit in on the meeting was to iron out any worries the industry had in the beginning in relation to safety and security of workers.

This union leader was convinced by scientific advisors
This union leader was convinced by scientific advisors. Picture: PA

Nigel prodded the union leader on whether he thought the argument between the government and unions is "being used for political purposes by some in the trade unions" amid the majority voice in teachers unions being to keep teachers and students at home with the current measures in place.

Mr Barton pointed out that "in the media this is being portrayed as a political act" but believed that it isn't the case generally. He added that unions represent a mass of workers and they have a duty to their members to protect them.

"It is absolutely reasonable for people to ask if this is safe" the union boss said. He was of the impression that because unions were not consulted before the decision was made to reopen schools, it led to uncertainty in the industry and proved to be the reason that many in the teaching profession were against a return.

He contemplated that "if the government worked directly with the profession from the beginning this would have been avoided" but finished up by telling Nigel that despite the mismanagement of communication in the beginning, he believes that it is safe for teachers to return to work in June.

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