Biggest teacher union in UK calls for school closures as COVID-19 cases rise

The daily number of new COVID-19 cases in the UK has topped 50,000 for the past four days, as the country struggles to control a new variant of the virus

All schools in England should shut for two weeks after the Christmas break due to a surge in coronavirus, the UK’s biggest teaching union has said.

The NEU’s call came after education secretary Gavin Williamson said that all London primaries would remain shut on Monday, rather than only those in some boroughs.

He said the closures were a last resort in the face of a fast-moving situation. Labour said the move had caused stress for pupils, teachers and parents.

The daily number of new COVID-19 cases in the UK has topped 50,000 for the past four days, as the country struggles to control a new variant of the virus. High coronavirus infection levels in the capital have put rising pressure on hospitals.

The president of the Royal College of Physicians, Prof Andrew Goddard, told the BBC the variant was now spreading across the country, adding:

“All hospitals that haven’t had the big pressures that they’ve had in the South East, London and south Wales should expect that it’s going to come their way.”

Dr Mary Bousted, joint head of the National Education Union which has more than 450,000 members, called for all primary and secondary schools to be closed, saying “what is right for London is right for the rest of the country”.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We know the virus is up to 70% more infectious and the thing we do uniquely with children is we put them all together in secondary schools, where we know children really can transmit, in year group bubbles of up to 240 pupils with no social distancing.

“So it is not difficult to see why secondary school pupils are the highest age group for Covid infection and primary schools are the second highest.”

Dr Bousted told BBC Breakfast she hoped a closure of all schools would give time for a mass-testing system to be set up, but called for this to be led by public health bodies.

“In secondary schools for 1,000 pupils you will need about 21 volunteers to do this testing because teachers can’t do it and the support staff can’t do it because they will be teaching and supporting children’s learning.”

Dave Lee-Allan, headteacher of Stowmarket High School in Suffolk, described the situation as “utterly chaotic” and said he would not reopen the school if he did not feel it was fully prepared – saying “it should be left to the headteachers on the ground to make the right call”.

He added that it was frustrating that the government said “keeping children in school is a national priority and that we are key workers” but teachers did not qualify for early access to the vaccine.

‘Chaos for parents’

Williamson said in mid-December that all primary school pupils in England would return as normal in January, while the return of secondary schools and colleges would be staggered to give them time to set up mass testing programmes.

But on Wednesday, Williamson delayed the start of term for all secondary schools, as well as some primary schools in Covid hotspots in south-east England, including parts of London.

Two days later, after pressure from local authorities, he expanded the primary school closures to the whole of London.

It means more than a million primary school pupils will now learn from home for at least the first two weeks of term.

Vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers will continue to attend school, the government said, adding that early years care, alternative provision and special schools will remain open.

What is happening with schools in January?

The start of term has already been delayed for millions of pupils across the UK.

Secondary schools in England will stagger their return after Christmas. Pupils taking exams in 2021 will now start on 11 January, with other year groups returning in person on 18 January.

Most primary schools in England will return on 4 January, but in London and some surrounding areas they will not open for most pupils until 18 January.

In Wales, local councils have been told they can be “flexible” with when they open. According to councils, many schools aim to return for face-to-face lessons from 11 January, with some fully open on 6 January.

In Northern Ireland, primary school pupils will be taught online until 11 January. In secondary schools, years 8 to 11 will be taught online throughout January. Years 12 to 14 will return to school after the first week of January.

In Scotland, the Christmas holidays have been extended to 11 January, and the following week will be online learning only. A full return to face-to-face learning is planned for 18 January.

Asaase Radio 99.5 – tune in or log on to broadcasts online.

#asaaseradio #TVOL

Show More

Related Articles

Back to top button

Adblock Detected