Unions join together to say 1st June is too soon, as DfE Scientific Advisor highlights concerns

All the main education trade unions have issued a joint statement today urging the government to rethink plans to ask schools to start to reopen from Monday 1 June.

It comes as the Department for Education’s own Chief Scientific Advisor effectively admits that he hasn’t been consulted by the government and that his department still hasn’t signed-off on the guidance for schools on how they can be Covid-19 secure.

According to Paul Waugh, Executive Editor at HuffPost:

“When asked by [Robert Halfon MP] what underpinned the DfE decision to reopen schools on 1 June, he says “that was not a departmental decision, that was a Cabinet decision following advice from [the government’s scientific advisory group] SAGE”

“Asked by [Zarah Sultana MP] what assessment he has made on how effectively the new govt guidance on schools can be implemented, the DfE’s chief scientific advisor replied: “I haven’t”.”

According to Paul Waugh, the DfE Chief Scientific Advisor then confirmed that the department will be working with Public Health England on the first draft of advice about how the government guidance can be applied in schools, which suggests that the guidance for schools isn’t even ready to allow Head Teachers’ to effectively risk assess in advance of reopening.

Paul Waugh also reports that, in response to a question from Carol Monaghan MP, the Chief Scientific Advisor at the DfE confirmed that there was a possibility that the plan to reopen schools on 1 June would put together “hundreds of potential vectors that can then go and transmit”. He confirmed that the evidence on whether children transmit the Covid-19 virus less than adults is “mixed” and that there is a “low degree of confidence” in the evidence.

All this follows the joint union statement about our concerns, which reads:

“We all want schools to re-open, but that should only happen when it is safe to do so. The government is showing a lack of understanding about the dangers of the spread of coronavirus within schools, and outwards from schools to parents, sibling and relatives, and to the wider community.

“Uniquely, it appears, school staff will not be protected by social distancing rules. 15 children in a class, combined with their very young age, means that classrooms of 4 and 5-year olds could become sources of Covid-19 transmission and spread.  While we know that children generally have mild symptoms, we do not know enough about whether they can transmit the disease to adults. We do not think that the government should be posing this level of risk to our society.

“We call on the government to step back from the 1st June and work with us to create the conditions for a safe return to schools based on the principles and tests we have set out.”

The principles and tests include:

  • Safety and welfare of pupils and staff as the paramount principle
  • No increase in pupil numbers until full rollout of a national test and trace scheme
  • A national Covid-19 education taskforce with government, unions and education stakeholders to agree statutory guidance for safe reopening of schools
  • Consideration of the specific needs of vulnerable students and families facing economic disadvantage
  • Additional resources for enhanced school cleaning, PPE and risk assessments
  • Local autonomy to close schools where testing indicates clusters of new covid-19 cases