Monday, 2 Aug 2021

Coronavirus: Teaching union calls for schools to be closed as part of England lockdown

A teaching union is calling for schools to be closed as part of England’s second lockdown, claiming they are a “major contributor to the spread of coronavirus”.

On Saturday, the prime minister said schools, colleges and universities will remain open between 5 November and 2 December when the rest of the country shuts down again.

But more than 70,000 teachers and support staff want schools to close – except for the children of key workers – according to the National Education Union (NEU).

General secretary Kevin Courtney said in a statement: “The government should include all schools in proposals for an immediate national lockdown and as a minimum be preparing for school rotas at the end of that period.

“It is clear from ONS (Office for National Statistics) data that schools are an engine for virus transmission.

“It would be self-defeating for the government to impose a national lockdown, whilst ignoring the role of schools as a major contributor to the spread of the virus.

“This would be likely to lead to the need for even longer lockdowns in the future.”

Referring to the latest ONS figures, Mr Courtney said 1% of primary school pupils and 2% of secondary students have COVID-19.

His union’s analysis of the data suggests infection levels in primary schools are nine times higher than they were when term started in September – and 50 times higher in secondary schools.

But Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said on Saturday it is “very important” schools and colleges stay open.

Chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty has also consistently advocated for children to stay in school.

He said in August: “The chances of many children being damaged by not going to school are incredibly clear and therefore the balance of risk is very strongly in favour of children going to school because many more are likely to be harmed by not going than harmed by going, even during this pandemic.”

Children’s commissioner for England Anne Longfield added that closing schools would be a “disaster” for pupils’ wellbeing and their education.

In Wales and Northern Ireland, schools were closed for an extended two-week half term as part of their respective “circuit breaker” lockdowns.

There were calls for similar action in England, but Boris Johnson said they should carry on as normal.

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