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Staffing, safety and vulnerable children must be priority for schools’ return, says UNISON

Responding to plans published last Thursday by the government for the full return of schools from September, UNISON head of education Jon Richards said:

“Everyone wants all children to return to the classroom as soon as possible. There are still issues, though, around staffing and safety.

“Test and trace must get a whole lot better for social distancing to be reduced and large pupil ‘bubbles’ to become the norm. Otherwise whole year groups would have to isolate when a child gets ill.

“There also must be guarantees teaching assistants don’t become permanent substitute teachers.

“Some have been filling in gaps left by staff going sick with Covid-19 or shielding. But this can’t be the case long term – teaching assistants aren’t trained as teachers, nor paid to do their jobs.

“Vulnerable pupils and those with special educational needs should be a priority. Staff want to get back working with these children, but social distancing is a challenge.

“Risk assessments are vital to ensure staff are protected from infection. Yet the government has largely ruled out using personal protective equipment.

“Telling schools just to get on with it isn’t the way forward. Instead, ministers must work with school staff and unions to agree safe ways of getting pupils back to the classroom.”

UNISON have now produced a detailed briefing on the guidance, setting our specific concerns and the issues we will continue to campaign on and raise with government. We hope that it proves useful in summarising some of the key points of the guidance and in establishing our union’s position on the government’s plans as they stand.
Government guidance
UNISON’s detailed briefing
UNISON has always been clear that we want to see a full return to schools as soon as possible, but that the safety of pupils, parents, staff and our communities must not be sacrificed by government.
The final guidance leaves many questions unanswered and will put huge pressure on schools and school leaders to make the decisions that the government have dodged.

UNISON is particularly concerned that the test and trace system is not currently fit for purpose and needs to be urgently improved in time for September.

Over the coming vital weeks UNISON will:

  • Work with the other unions to try to get the government to make improvements to the guidance and make a plan B in case of more local lockdowns
  • Produce joint union checklists for early years, special schools, mainstream schools and FE. These will be for branches, school reps and members to use when working with schools to produce updated risk assessments for opening in September and will include the key changes we will be seeking to the guidance
  • Push for changes and improvements to the test and trace system to ensure it is fit for purpose
  • Campaign for additional funding and resources for schools to deal with increased work and the need for more staff
  • Campaign for additional support for vulnerable and disadvantaged pupils

Please keep an eye on our website for further updates.