Last reviewed 13 April 2020

Two of the country’s leading trade unions have expressed misgivings about parts of the Department for Education’s (DfE’s) and the Welsh Government’s programme for dealing with the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on schools and parents.

UNISON has written to the Department after its updated guidance on social distancing in education settings said that education staff do not require personal protective equipment (PPE).

While accepting that the risks in schools are different to those in hospitals, the union is concerned that the guidance fails to reflect all school situations – for example where social distancing is impossible, and where schools can be more like social care settings.

“The guidance over-estimates the ability of staff and pupils to achieve social distancing in schools where children have complex needs, particularly in special schools,” the letter said.

It also argues that details in the guidance about the need for schools to ration cleaning products are “completely unacceptable” given the requirement for staff and pupils to follow rules on hand-washing to limit the potential spread of COVID-19.

“While we await further guidance from the department,” the union concluded, ”branches should call on schools to fully follow UNISON’s health and safety advice for schools staff, as the best way to protect staff and pupils.”

UNISON’s updated guidance can be found here.

Meanwhile, Unite is raising concerns over the different arrangements by councils across Wales to deliver free school meals to eligible children.

Noting that approaches taken by councils vary from delivery of frozen meals/packed lunches to making bank transfer payments or sending vouchers to the parent/carer of every child entitled to a meal, it highlights the problems particularly associated with some of these voucher schemes.

Pasty Turner, Unite Community co-ordinator for Wales, explained: “The voucher scheme, which many are doing, is problematic as they are only accepted at big retail outlets such as Tesco or Asda. There is no choice in which store to use, especially if they want to stay local.”

For those living in rural areas, accessing these retail stores becomes very difficult, she continued,. In addition, bank transfers did not guarantee the child will get a meal as families may be struggling with financial hardship and debt.

Unite has called on the Welsh government to liaise with local authorities to develop a system which ensures children receive the meals directly.