UK teaching unions urge govt to reconsider school reopening plans

A group of experts separate from the government's said schools should not reopen until an effective local tracing system is in place.
A group of experts separate from the government's said schools should not reopen until an effective local tracing system is in place.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • British teaching unions have urged the authorities to reconsider plans to reopen schools on June 1, after the government released scientific advice on easing the coronavirus lockdown.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier this month announced plans to begin a phased return of the youngest pupils as part of a slow easing of the nationwide stay-at-home orders.

But it has sparked concern among teachers and parents, as the death rate in the United Kingdom, at more than 36,000 - already the highest in Europe - keeps rising by the hundreds each day.

Newly published documents from the government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) say decisions on how reopening schools might impact the Covid-19 outbreak would hinge on how susceptible and infectious children were.

"Evidence remains inconclusive on both the susceptibility and infectivity of children, but the balance of evidence suggests that both may be lower than in adults," it said.

Dr Mary Bousted, joint head of the National Education Union, said on Friday that June 1 was too soon and accused Mr Johnson of a "cavalier attitude towards the nation's children".

"If we cannot be certain about the transmission of the virus - and it appears Sage cannot, either - then it is only right to exercise caution," she added.

Dr Patrick Roach, head of the NASUWT teachers' union, said the new evidence would "only add to teachers' uncertainty and anxiety".

A group of experts separate from the government's - led by Professor Sir David King, a former chief scientist - on Friday said schools should not reopen until an effective local tracing system is in place.

 
 

"It is clear from the evidence we have collected that June 1 is simply too early to go back," he said.

Several local authorities in England have said they were unlikely to be able to reopen schools by the start of next month.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 24, 2020, with the headline 'UK teaching unions urge govt to reconsider school reopening plans'. Print Edition | Subscribe