Education unions and other progressive sections of the UK have slammed the Conservative government’s move to reopen schools starting March 8. On Monday, February 22, the National Education Union (NEU) pointed out that the reopening which could bring 10 million people back to the institutions is being done without the necessary precautions. The NEU has accused the government of not taking any significant action to improve COVID-19 safety protocols in schools. Wales and Scotland are slated to go for a phased reopening of schools.
Unions including GMB, Unison, RMT, Teachers’ union NASUWT, University and College Union (UCU) have also raised concerns over the government’s decision. On Monday, the UK prime minister Boris Jonson made the announcement in the parliament while explaining the Tories’ four stage plan for lifting the COVID-19 restrictions by June 21. On Wednesday, Boris Jonson promised a new 700 million Pound (989.35 million USD) package of catch-up funding for schools to support their pupils as they return to the classroom, which the unions say will be insufficient in addressing educational inequalities and staff requirements.
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Dr. Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, said that “a ‘big bang’ school reopening brings 10 million people back into crowded buildings with no social distancing and inadequate ventilation. The wearing of face masks by pupils and staff in secondary school lessons is a welcome measure but it is not enough on its own. The government has had two months to put extra mitigations in place to stop the growth in infection in schools and colleges that was seen from September to December.”
“Where are the ventilation units for classrooms? Where are the nightingale classrooms? Where is the PHE testing which school leaders could rely upon to give more accurate results? It is no good political parties talking about these safeguards when they know very well that they have not been put in place and will not be put in place by 8 March. Words are cheap. Actions are needed,” she added.
The Tory government was also widely criticized for insensitive handling of a spike in COVID-19 cases in the universities in October last year.