FIVE EDUCATION UNIONS have writtento the Secretary of State for Education, Nadhim Zahawi, asking him to urgently reconsider the reintroduction of additional safety measures in schools, given the rising rates of Covid infection and absence among school students in England.

The five unions – GMB, NASUWT, NEU, UNISON and UNITE – will also be writing to all local authorities and directors of public health asking them to consider measures in their local areas.

The unions have pointed to measures now being readopted in several local authority areas in response to rising cases, including social distancing measures, reintroduction of bubbles, avoidance of large gatherings such as assemblies and meetings, and reintroduction of face coverings in secondary schools.

The unions have warned that without such measures, students’ education and the health of students, their families and school staff will all be damaged unnecessarily.

Avril Chambers, GMB National Officer, said: “Yet again we appear to have denial of the facts from this Government. Covid cases among school pupils are growing exponentially and it is clear further mitigation measures are needed immediately. School staff have kept our schools open throughout the pandemic: they deserve to stay safe and our children deserve not to have their education interrupted any more than it already has been. The minister needs to act now.”

Patrick Roach, General Secretary, NASUWT said: “As cases rise, ministers need to look again at supporting schools with onsite testing into the spring term, rather than relying on home testing, which is less effective. There is an urgent need for the Government to consider reinstating the requirement for pupils to self-isolate if they are in close contact with someone who has tested positive. Proportionate safety measures and appropriate support for schools are essential in breaking the continuing chain of virus transmission.”

Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary, National Education Union, said: ‘We are concerned that the Government is standing by while Covid cases surge across schools.  It is evident that more needs to be done, and sooner rather than later, to prevent further massive disruption to children’s education, caused either by children contracting Covid-19 or Covid-related staff absence.  The most effective way of keeping children in education is to do more now to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in schools.’

Jon Richards, UNISON Assistant General Secretary, said: “Ministers must do all they can to stop continued disruption to classroom learning as infections rise. To offer pupils and staff greater protection, face masks must return right away, along with school bubbles and other sensible precautions that were ditched. Air filters are also key to limiting the virus spread and ensuring pupils have a more stable academic year.”

Jim Kennedy, Unite National Officer for education, said: “Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi has a great opportunity to reset the safety agenda for schools, following the departure of Gavin Williamson. With winter fast approaching and with Covid still rampant the whole range of measures to keep school children safe needs to be deployed – the rising level of infections in schools demand it.”

Government data shows that Covid-19 cases amongst school-aged children surged to a record high of 102,000 on 30 September, a 67 per cent rise since 16 September. This has already resulted in over 200,000 pupils being absent from school on 30 September with either a confirmed or suspected case of Covid.  Staff absence is also leading to some children being sent home due to lack of staff.

* Read the full text of the letter here.

* Source: National Education Union