Last reviewed 11 May 2020

A vital step in any Government plan to relax the current lockdown restrictions is to allow children to return to school but the TUC, acting for a group of unions, has warned that there are important tests that must be met before this can happen.

On behalf of the GMB, NEU, NAHT, NASUWT, UNISON and Unite, the TUC has written to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson warning that certain procedures must be in place before any plans are taken forward to reopen schools in England more widely in the weeks ahead.

General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Parents and staff need full confidence that schools will be safe before any pupils return. The Government must work closely with unions to agree a plan that meets the tests we have set out. Those discussions must include unions representing all school workers, not just teachers.”

The key principles

In their joint statement the unions have explained the factors that must be in place before the wider reopening of schools. The paramount consideration must be the safety and welfare of students, their families, staff and the wider public.

Also highlighted are:

  • the need for agreement by employers and trade unions on a range of procedures to make sure schools are safe environments including robust risk assessments in advance of reopening

  • the establishment of a national COVID-19 education taskforce, comprising Government, the education trade unions and other key stakeholders, in order to develop statutory guidance and a strategic approach

  • additional financial support for schools as they will need additional cleaning and access to personal protective equipment (PPE) as well as having to deal with the impact on the mental health and living standards of vulnerable and disadvantaged children and their families, and BAME groups.

The way ahead

The unions have set out the tests which must be met as schools prepare to reopen. These include:

  • the availability of clear, scientific, published evidence that trends in transmission of COVID-19 will not be adversely impacted by the reopening phase

  • no increase in pupil numbers until the full rollout of the Government’s “test, trace and isolate policy” with testing targets consistently met over a number of weeks and case numbers falling consistently

  • a phased approach kept under constant review and numbers of new admissions not increased until science shows that this is safe

  • agreement between Government, employers and unions that operational practices and procedures in schools meet minimum quantifiable standards, in particular regarding social distancing, hygiene and cleansing practices

  • the most vulnerable pupils being prioritised

  • the ability of Governing Bodies and School leadership teams to make decisions to close schools in cases of local outbreaks/upsurge in COVID-19 cases

  • clear strategies for safeguarding the most vulnerable pupils and staff, including those who have an underlying condition, are pregnant, over 70 or in the shielded group, and those who live with (or care for) anyone in these categories. These pupils and staff should be allowed to self-isolate or work from home.

See https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/unions-set-out-needs-safe-reopening-schools-letter-education-secretary or full details.