Clarity, confidence and a Plan B

Interview with General Secretary Deborah Lawson

By Richard Fraser, Editor

General Secretary Deborah Lawson interviewed about schools opening in September, 10 August 2020, BBC Radio Derby, 3:06:00 – 3:13:24

Interviewer: “What’s your view on schools reopening?”

Deborah Lawson:

“We have been supporting our members to return to work in September, and I would say that there is a very large proportion of people who actually agree with what the Prime Minister has been saying.

“They want to go back to work. They understand that it’s essential that all children and young people are fully able to resume their education.

“They go into education themselves, whether it be as teachers or as TAs or as other members of the education workforce to actually make a difference, and they want to be able to do that where it is actually best for them to be able to do that, and that’s in school.”

Staff concerns, risks and social distancing

Interviewer: “Do you believe there is a solution out there?”

Deborah Lawson:

“I think that’s very difficult, and the problems that there are are that the messaging about this, about what is acceptable and expected within schools and what is acceptable and expected outside school, is actually quite different.

“And what we are finding from our members – who are not opposed to returning to work – is that they want clarity, and that’s what colleagues in other unions have said, is about the clarity of messaging. That lack of clarity is leading to the lack of confidence about what is actually going on.”

Interviewer: Potentially limiting social interaction by one week on, one week off system (ASCL in favour). Do you agree with that?

Deborah Lawson:

“Obviously, if we return all pupils to school in September and we find that by half term, or maybe by the end of term, that there hasn’t been a significant increase in cases that are associated with schools, then maybe that isn’t necessary, but if we find that there is a change, then we have to look at alternatives, and maybe one alternative is to look at is the rota system.

“But we know that the Government isn’t fond of that as an option. But we have to say that this is something that we’d have to look at should it be found that the spike in cases, whether is be locally or nationally, has emanated from schools.”

Interviewer: Is a Plan B something that should be considered?

Deborah Lawson: “It is most necessary to have a Plan B.

“Let’s face it, we are all expecting in the coming months that there will be further lockdowns or restrictions, whether that be locally or nationally, and therefore there has to be a Plan B, and schools need to know what is expected of them in the coming months, and how they are actually going to deliver that Plan B themselves.

“They are considering a number of local scenarios, and all of this is adding to the workload and they are dojng their best to ensure that whatever they are doing is not detracting from the education of children and young people that they’re responsible for.”

Interviewer: Do the benefits of reopening schools really outweigh the risks to staff and pupils?

Deborah Lawson:

“I think we’ve heard before (in June) that nothing was without risk. It’s actually about ensuing that the whole education workforce, teachers and support staff, TAs, engage with the risk assessment process with their heads and leadership teams to ensure that every possible risk is looked at and mitigated. And that is how it will be safe, as safe as possible for them to return.”

Interviewer: Many parents are still confused, still concerned, very worried about sending their children back. What message can you give them to pacify them?

Deborah Lawson:

It’s not about pacifying them, it’s about giving them confidence. It’s not the role of unions, whether that’s Voice or any of the other unions, to give that parents that confidence. That’s the role of the Government to actually get the messaging right to ensure that there is sufficient confidence out there, whether it’s for families, or whether it’s for the whole education workforce.”

Further information

Statement of 3 August 2020: Essential that the Government has a Plan B for schools 

The Government is right to exercise caution to prevent further rise of infection rates.

The whole education workforce knows it is essential that all children and young people are able to fully resume their education.  Voice supports the ambition for all pupils to return to school in September and will support our members with this.  

However, further lockdowns or restrictions at local or national level are to be expected in the coming months therefore it is essential that the Government has a Plan B for schools.  

Schools need to know from the Government before September what Plan B is and how they are expected to deliver it and ensure that all pupils have access to learning should a school be required to close, or reduce pupil intake in response to local conditions.

We continue to be concerned for our members who are most at risk and ask the Government to reconsider the use of PPE to protect them and reduce the expected rise in infections.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) information page

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