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Union believes school closures during lockdown are inevitable

Islington NEU says decision to continue teaching in classrooms poses a risk to staff and families

06 November, 2020 — By Helen Chapman

Ken Muller: ‘We were very reluctant to close schools because of the need to teach but we now think schools should close for a limited period’

A TEACHING union says schools should be shut as part of efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, with organisers in Islington believing that a closure at some point is now “inevitable”.

Schools, nurseries, colleges and universities are staying open during the new Covid-19 lockdown but the Islington branch of the National Education Union said that keeping them open posed a risk to staff and parents.

It is following calls from the union’s national leaders who have called on the government to include schools in the second UK shutdown.

Ken Muller from Islington NEU said: “We were very reluctant to close schools because of the need to teach but we now think schools should close for a limited period.

“We think schools need to close for the period of lockdown but the time needs to be used productively in order to get a proper test and trace system in place for schools to reopen in a safe way.”

He added: “Young pupils are less likely to be seriously ill from the virus but can transmit the virus. That is dangerous to staff and to families when they go home.”

Schools were closed during the first national lockdown, staying open only for children of key workers and those considered vulnerable.

In September, all pupils were invited back, although life in primary and secondary schools has a new look with hand sanitisers, social distancing and “bubble classes” that keep the same groups together through the day.

This week, schools were told pupils must wear a face covering in all communal areas such as corridors and on the bus on their journeys in.

Mr Muller said: “We have seen so many U-turns from this government, we think it is inevitable schools will close.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if parents will start saying although they want their kids in schools learning, they want them to close so they can reopen later safely.”

The stance in Islington is slightly different from NEU organisers in neighbouring Camden, who said that headteachers and staff were, in the majority, keen to carry on and that the union’s national position had not been discussed with members.

Latest government data shows that seven per cent of state school pupils were out of school on October 22 because of Covid-19 reasons.

The Islington NEU has also called for a rota system where students spend some time learning at home and some time in schools when the lockdown ends.

“That would clearly need resources from the government,” said Mr Muller. “Laptops would need to be put in place. We think it is a desperate situation we are in, created by a thoroughly incompetent government more interested in protecting the profits of its friends in big business than protecting school staff.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We are prioritising children’s and young people’s education and wellbeing by keeping nurseries, schools, colleges and universities open.

“The chief and deputy chief medical officers have highlighted the risks of not being in education on their development and mental health.”

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