Coronavirus: ‘Chaos and confusion’ over open schools

Mar 17, 2020 by

A teachers’ union leader tells of a “rising sense of panic” in schools as staff fear for their safety.

There are no plans currently to close schools

A lack of clarity about pupil and staff safety amid the coronavirus epidemic is putting teachers under “intolerable pressure”, a union leader has said.

Government advice to keep schools open caused chaos and confusion, amid fears pupils were carrying the virus, said Chris Keates, the NASUWT union head.

She told of a “rising sense of panic” in schools as staff fear for their safety as more and more people get ill.

Heads have already said keeping schools open would be very challenging.

In a meeting with Education Secretary Gavin Williamson late on Monday, they said many schools would start to find they had too few staff available to teach and supervise.

The government has said closures may be necessary in the weeks ahead but only “at the right stage” of the outbreak.

But Ms Keates said the information from the government was unclear.

‘Diminishing staff’

“The lack of clear information with regard to the steps to protect teachers, head teachers and other staff working in schools in the context of commentators constantly referring to the threats posed by children carrying Covid-19 is causing chaos and confusion and placing intolerable pressure on all staff in schools and their families,” she said.

The NASUWT had consistently raised a series of concerns with ministers since this national crisis had begun to unfold, Ms Keates said.

“Whilst we have sought not to second guess the science and medical advice and worked to support members in the increasingly difficult situation, the lack of specific information for schools understandably has created a rising sense of panic,” she said.

And with “ever diminishing staffing levels” in schools, the health and safety of staff and pupils was being compromised.

“This situation cannot be allowed to continue,” Ms Keates added.

In a joint statement, issued after their meeting with Mr Williamson, the general secretaries of the Association of School and College Leaders and the National Association of Head Teachers, Geoff Barton and Paul Whiteman, pledged to continue working with the government but said: “The most immediately pressing challenge is the difficulty in keeping schools open with growing numbers of staff having to self-isolate.

“It is likely that a number of schools will have to close because there are too few staff available to teach, support and supervise children.”

They also expressed concern about the implications for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities, those children who received free school meals and those from vulnerable families.

“There is also the crucial question of [national curriculum tests] Sats, GCSE and A-level exams, which are scheduled in May and June,” they said.

Ofsted, meanwhile, has said it will “look very favourably” on school leaders’ requests to defer inspections of schools.

Source: Coronavirus: ‘Chaos and confusion’ over open schools – BBC News

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