Teaching unions sound alarm AGAIN over plans to reopen schools

Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT teachers' union

Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT teachers' union

Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT teachers’ union

Teaching bosses last night sounded the alarm again over plans to reopen schools after Downing Street promised parents that classes will resume in full next month.

The Government imposed new restrictions on the north of England on Thursday and on Friday it pumped the brakes on reopening bowling alleys, casinos, skating rinks and other entertainment venues.

But despite the shift, ministers have insisted that schools will still reopen early in September, prompting the NASUWT teaching union to make renewed demands.

Patrick Roach, general secretary of the union, told The Observer: ‘In light of recent changes to plans for relaxing lockdown measures, the Government needs to provide greater clarity to school leaders, teachers and parents about what this will mean for the reopening of schools in September.’

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visiting the Discovery School in West Malling, Kent, last month

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visiting the Discovery School in West Malling, Kent, last month

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visiting the Discovery School in West Malling, Kent, last month

A warning from chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty that the country is ‘near the limit’ for opening up society will prompt questions for parents as well as teachers, Mr Roach told the newspaper.


Coronavirus cases in England are now at the highest levels since May and government scientists are ‘no longer confident’ the crucial R rate is below the dreaded level of one. 

Government statisticians yesterday admitted there is ‘now enough evidence’ to prove Covid-19 infections are on the up, calculating that 4,200 people are now catching the virus each day in England alone.

The estimate by the Office for National Statistics, which tracks the size of the outbreak by swabbing thousands of people, has doubled since the end of June and is 68 per cent up on the 2,500 figure given a fortnight ago.

One in 1,500 people currently have the coronavirus – 0.07 per cent of the population. But experts believe the rate is twice as high in London and still rising. The figure does not include care homes and hospitals. 

Number 10’s scientific advisers also upped the R rate in the UK, saying they now believe it stands between 0.8 and 0.9. It had been as low as 0.7 since May.

SAGE also revealed the growth rate – the average number of people each Covid-19 patient infects – may have jumped to above one in the South West, home to the stay-cation hotspots of Devon, Cornwall and Dorset. And they said it was likely to be equally high in the North West. Matt Hancock last night announced tough new lockdown measures in Greater Manchester and parts of Lancashire and Yorkshire. 


‘If schools are to reopen safely, the government will need to give them clarification about what they need to do to take account of the latest scientific evidence and advice, as well as sufficient time to review and, if necessary, adjust their reopening plans,’ he added.

In response, a Department of Education spokesman directed the PA news agency to a statement saying the department had provided guidance on which control measures should be used when reopening schools.

He said: ‘We have set out the controls schools should use, including cleaning and hygiene measures, to substantially reduce the risk of transmission of the virus when they open to all children from September.

‘This does not include the wearing of face coverings as we believe the system of controls laid out adequately reduced the risk of transmission to both staff and students.’

Meanwhile, Dr Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, told the Observer that although risks to children and teachers are likely to be low, this transmission would increase infection rates.

‘Would reopening schools increase the spread of Covid-19 in the population? Yes. I think it would very probably do that,’ he told the newspaper.

It comes after a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said ministers might have to consider closing pubs in England in order for lessons to start again next month.

Professor Graham Medley, who chairs the Sage sub-group on pandemic modelling, said this scenario was ‘quite possible’.

‘I think we’re in a situation whereby most people think that opening schools is a priority for the health and wellbeing of children and that when we do that we are going to reconnect lots of households,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

‘And so actually, closing some of the other networks, some of the other activities may well be required to enable us to open schools.

‘It might come down to a question of which do you trade off against each other and then that’s a matter of prioritising, do we think pubs are more important than schools?’ 

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