Saturday 23 May 2020

Only 5% of teachers think it safe to reopen English schools, poll shows

Survey by NASUWT union shows more work needed to win trust and allay fears

A leading teaching union has warned the government it will have to do more to win the trust of teachers, after a poll of almost 30,000 members found just 5% believed it was safe for more children to return to schools in England from 1 June.

The NASUWT’s snapshot survey revealed soaring levels of anxiety among teachers, with the overwhelming majority describing government plans for reopening primary schools as confusing and unsafe.

Ninety-five per cent of those polled said they were concerned and anxious about reopening, 93% said the government’s plans were confusing, while 91% lacked confidence in government measures to protect their health and that of their pupils.
Pupils learn about physical distancing at a reopened school in Kranj, Slovenia, on 18 May. Photograph: Luka Dakskobler/Sopa/Rex/Shutterstock

The survey results were published as unions prepared to meet the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, on Tuesday for crunch talks about schools reopening from 1 June in the face of widespread opposition from teachers and some councils.

NASUWT’s general secretary, Patrick Roach, has called on Williamson to provide all the scientific evidence and modelling the government has relied on in making its decision to start reopening schools.

In a letter to the education secretary, Roach underlined the NASUWT’s commitment to working with ministers but said the government would have to do “further urgent work” to win the trust and confidence of the profession.

“The NASUWT is fully committed to ensuring children can return to school as quickly as possible,” said Roach. “However, our bottom line is that no teacher or pupil should be expected to return to school until it is safe for them to do so.

“The results of our survey underscore the fact that the government has thus far failed to win the trust and confidence of teachers about the safety of reopening schools. It is now imperative that the government takes every available opportunity to provide the necessary assurances that teachers are seeking.”

The government has said it wants children in nursery, reception, year one and year six to begin a phased return to schools in England from 1 June, with other primary years following soon after, so primary children where feasible are in a school for a month before the summer holiday.

Secondary school pupils preparing for exams next summer are expected to get some “face time” with their teachers where possible.

The NASUWT said the response to its survey was overwhelming, with 29,000 members submitting their views in fourdays. It said many of the findings would be concerning for ministers who have been trying to reassure teachers and parents that it was safe for schools to reopen. Currently, schools are open only to children of key workers and vulnerable pupils.

Among the NASUWT findings, which Roach relayed to Williamson in his letter, just 5% found the government plans clear or helpful, a mere 2% were supportive of the government’s plans to reopen schools, while 92% said they were not reassured by government claims about safety.

Almost nine in 10 teachers (87%) believed PPE was essential to protect against transmission. Government guidance is that PPE will not be routinely needed in most schools.

More than seven out of 10 (72%) said government plans to keep children in separate, small groups at all times, were not workable, while almost half (48%) said staggered lunched breaks were not practical in their school or college.

Teachers were also concerned about safe physical distancing in schools – 92% said social distancing would not be possible or would present a major issue in their school. Asked whether they thought it was safe to return to school at the beginning of June, 85% said no, 5% responded yes and the rest were undecided.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Plans for a phased return of some year groups from 1 June, at the earliest, are based on the best scientific and medical advice. The welfare of children and staff has been at the heart of all decision making.

“We have engaged closely with the unions throughout the past eight weeks, including organising for them to hear directly from the scientific experts last week, and will continue to do so, including to develop further guidance if required.”

(Source: The Guardian)

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