By Deborah Lawson, Assistant General Secretary, Community Union (Voice Section)
Yesterday, it was announced that secondary schools and colleges in Wales will move to online learning from Monday as part of ‘national effort to reduce coronavirus transmission’ while mass testing will be rolled out to secondary school children in the worst-affected areas of London, Kent and Essex.
Voice Community is aware of the impact closing schools can have both on students’ learning and on the ability of parents and carers to work, and our members always opt to put the wellbeing of the children first. That is why we have not been calling for a blanket closure of all schools before Christmas.
However, we are supportive of the need for schools, local authorities and the governments in the nations of the UK to be able to make decisions – informed by medical advice and scientific evidence – based on the needs of learners and staff.
Individual schools must be able to take action – such as on full or partial closures and remote learning – as is necessary to keep them safe for all, particularly where many members of staff are having to self-isolate.
In Wales, Education Minister Kirsty Williams praised the efforts of education staff to make schools and colleges safe and secure environments, with almost half of all Welsh schools having had zero COVID cases since September.
However, the decision on secondary schools was made “to take pressure off individual schools, colleges, local authorities, parents and carers”, following expert advice from Wales’s Chief Medical Officer showing that the public health situation in Wales was deteriorating.
A number of counties, including Cardiff and Swansea, have said primary schools will close earlier too, again in line with the agreed all-Wales approach.
London, Kent and Essex
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it was "right" to keep schools open "for education and for public health", and we hope that the mass testing in affected areas will both break the chains of transmission and enable schools to stay open if possible.
We encourage staff, children and families to get tested.
Mass testing in Wales and England
Mass COVID testing is proposed across schools in Wales [confirmed, 14 December] and we understand is due to roll out in schools in England from January, following pilot schemes. Such measures should reduce transmission levels and mean fewer schools have to close, reducing disruption for staff, pupils and families. Again, we would urge everyone in the school and wider communities to participate in these schemes.
Survey of Voice Community members
We are currently surveying members to find out what would make you feel safer at work, including questions on testing and vaccine priority. Please take part in this as it will inform our discussions with ministers and officials across the UK. If you haven’t received the email to subscribing members with the survey link, please email us.
Schools in England can close for Christmas a day early (8 December 2020)