Teacher unions say there are still “unanswered questions” about the safety of opening primary schools in England, starting June 1, after meeting with government science advisers.
Kevin Courtney of the National Education Union said it was not yet clear what steps would mean he was safe.
The British Medical Association agreed that it was too early to reopen schools.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson said schools will have “all the advice and support they need.”
The British Medical Association said that with so much “conflicting” evidence about the opening of schools, it was “completely aligned” with calls from teachers’ unions to delay reopening.
“Until the number of cases decreases, we should not consider reopening schools,” said a letter from the chairman of the BMA board.
Teacher unions were able to ask questions about the safety of opening schools to the chief scientific adviser, the chief medical officer of health and the chief nurse.
After the meeting, Courtney did not suggest that there had been a breakthrough – and that “many of the questions we asked were left unaddressed.”
He welcomed the promise to publish scientific evidence for the decision to reopen schools.
But he said there was a need to clarify the thresholds that would determine that it was safe to open schools – like a “daily case count”.
And he asked how it would be measured if the reopening increased the rate of infection in the wider community.
Courtney said that in terms of understanding the spread of the virus: “We have been told that we are at the bottom of knowledge and that there is still a lot of uncertainty about science.”
But Mr. Williamson said, “I want to reassure parents and families that we are giving schools, nurseries and other providers all the advice and support they will need to take in more and more children over time. earlier on June 1. “
On Friday, the Prime Minister’s spokesman reiterated that masks or protective equipment should not be worn by teachers or students.
It was part of the safety tips released this week that offered to teach students in small groups of 15 or less and keep them away from other children during school day.
The guidelines recognized that keeping young children two meters apart at school would often not be realistic – and instead focused on separating small groups of children and using lots of car wash. hands and hygiene.
An alliance of nine teacher unions warned that it was not yet safe to open schools.
But one of the largest academic trusts in England has become one of the first school groups to announce that it will reopen on June 1.
Steve Chalke, founder of the Oasis Trust, which has 35 elementary schools, says the opposition to the reopening is “more middle-class.”
He says the councils of teachers’ unions are “unbalanced” and fail to recognize the harm that disadvantaged children have had to miss in school.
“Don’t force anyone to attend”
Mr. Chalke, whose schools have an average of 45% of children eligible for free school meals, said: “The greatest risks for many of our children are stuck in a board block, with no fresh air, no exercise, little or no no nutritious food. ”
Many of their students “live in cramped conditions with little digital access” and will therefore struggle with schools operating only online, he said.
Chalke said the schools “would not force anyone to participate”, either in students or staff, and that he “respects the opinion of the union.”
Security measures would be in place, but he stressed that the “long-term social cost” of not opening “would outweigh the short-term medical risks”.
“Our children need space to learn”
Graham Gallagher and his wife Leanne have three young children with special needs.
According to him, the reopening of schools on June 1 “would benefit the whole family”, who lives in a two-bedroom apartment in Walsall in the West Midlands.
He feels that their children are not getting a “valuable learning experience” at home and fear that they may regress from the “solid progress” they have made during this school year.
At home, kids have trouble concentrating for more than an hour at a time, and Leanne has trouble managing learning for three kids at a time.
Reopening schools would allow children to learn and socialize in a distraction-free environment with more space and access to an outdoor space.
He said the couple shared the teachers’ concerns about their need to be “properly protected”, and hoped that “plans will be put in place” to allay their concerns.
“Too early” to reopen schools
Elementary school teacher Mary Newton, 49, says she “feels very strongly” that June is “far too early” to reopen schools.
Her husband John, 56, who runs an educational book business, protected herself at home after a recent heart attack, and Mary said her children’s return to school would be a health concern.
They plan to keep their two children – who are in grades 4 and 6 – at home for as long as they can.
She says it could be “catastrophic” for a child’s mental health if they contracted the virus and passed it on to a family member who fell very ill.
Children could be “traumatized” by the new rules that should be followed and staff would be worried, she added.
“I believe that schools should continue to support the children of key workers and the most vulnerable,” she said, “but I will certainly not be returning my sixth grade child to school in June.”
Patrick Roach, secretary general of the NASUWT teachers’ union, said health and safety should be the main consideration.
In a letter to the directors of children’s services, he wrote, “a bad decision will result in seriously ill and dying people,” adding that members reserve the right to take legal action under the Child Welfare Laws. employment.
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Responding to a question about the impasse in England, the Prime Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, said: “If I were a parent in England and I heard that teachers’ unions were not convinced that schools would open safely, that would be a concern to me. “
Schools in Wales will not open on June 1 – and schools in Scotland or Northern Ireland are not expected to open before the summer holidays.