Britain

No more pupils until track-and-trace goes national, school unions insist

A list of key measures must be met before pupils in England can safely return to their desks, teaching unions have told the government.

It includes extra money for deep cleaning and personal protective equipment (PPE) and local powers to close schools if clusters of coronavirus infections break out in a particular area.

Schools must also not reopen until a UK-wide rollout of a track-and-trace scheme that would help pinpoint those who need to be in quarantine is under way. A contact-tracing phone app is currently in its early stages of being trialled on the Isle of Wight.

The joint statement was sent to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson by bodies including the National Association of Head Teachers and the National Education Union.

Published by the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it called for "clear scientific published evidence that trends in transmission of COVID-19 will not be adversely impacted by the reopening phase and that schools are also safe to reopen".

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The tests that the school workforce unions said were "essential" to have in place before pupils return 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
  • Consideration of the specific needs of vulnerable students and families facing financial hardship
  • Additional resources for enhanced school cleaning, PPE and risk assessments
  • Local autonomy to close schools where testing indicates clusters of new COVID-19 cases

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "Parents and staff need full confidence that schools will be safe before any pupils return.

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"The government must work closely with unions to agree a plan that meets the tests we have set out.

"Those discussions must include unions representing all school workers, not just teachers."

The statement is backed by the main teaching unions as well as Unite, GMB and Unison, representing key school staff such as cleaners, administrators and caterers.

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