Media speculation about schools ‘reopening’ premature, unrealistic and causing anxiety (updated 7 May)

Once again, the media have added further to the anxiety of education and early years staff, parents and children, by again speculating about an imminent ‘reopening’ of schools. Updated with tweets and interview, 7 May 2020.

By Deborah Lawson, General Secretary, Voice

Once again, the media have added further to the anxiety of education and early years staff, parents and children, by again speculating about an imminent ‘reopening’ of schools which appears to ignore the fact that most schools are already open to key workers’ children and others and or provide remote learning opportunities for pupils –  this time on 1 June. It seems that they have taken reports that schools will be given three weeks’ notice to reopen and made the assumption that this means three weeks from the date of the Prime Minister’s forthcoming ‘roadmap’ to end lockdown.

Members should be assured that Voice is being consulted by the Government, and we are in regular contact with officials and passing on the very real concerns of our members at this very uncertain time. 

In my recent letter to the Education Secretary about coronavirus I said that media speculation and conjecture:

“is misleading and unhelpful and only serves to raise the level of anxiety across the whole school workforce, at a time when teachers, teaching assistants and other members of the support staff, who continue to work in schools across the country, require clarity.”

A member contacted Voice over the weekend to say that:

“The headline on the front of the Telegraph today has caused a huge amount of anxiety about going back. Many of us are prepared for September but feel that June is just too soon to guarantee the safety of children, their families and staff”.

Again, as I stated in my letter:

“Before schools, colleges and nurseries can fully reopen, there are many issues that must be addressed, not least the safety of pupils, staff, and their families. The health, safety, and wellbeing of all those involved must be paramount if the risk of a second wave of infection is to be avoided.

“Voice will continue to support the Government’s strategy to follow the scientific evidence and advice in order to assess when it may be safe for schools, colleges, and nurseries to begin to accept more pupils . Ministers have been clear that lifting of restrictions across the country will be  partial and or phased, and this includes if, how and when schools will welcome more pupils. 

“Voice believes that planning for  pupil return must be done in partnership with the profession, their representatives, and stakeholders if it is to be successful and accepted.”

Unrealistic and misleading speculation

The speculation that schools will fully reopen in June is unrealistic, and not what ministers are saying. 

In an interview at the weekend, First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford mentioned June as an example of when some children could go back to school, but this caused confusion and fuelled media speculation.  However, the Welsh Government has since clarified that no decision had been made on when schools would partially reopen. Speaking to BBC Wales after the programme, Mr Drakeford said he was using June as an example: "If we make the decision to return next week then the return to school will be in June." But he stressed that no decision had been made.

Later, he tweeted:

In Scotland, Deputy First Minister John Swinney told BBC Good Morning Scotland recently that he expected Scottish schools to remain closed until “at least the summer break”.

At the Saturday Downing Street briefing, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick explained that the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, had said that the Government was not able to give a date to parents for the return of schools: “He has said that that’s going to be done carefully, and may well be in a phased manner,” Mr Jenrick added.

Even in the speculative articles on Sunday, such as in The Guardian, Gavin Williamson is reported as saying that “pupils will return to school in a phased manner when it is safe to do so”:

“A Department for Education source repeated that no date had been set for reopening, which would be done in full consultation with schools and with several weeks’ notice. Williamson has also asked a subcommittee of the government’s scientific advisory group for emergencies (Sage) to look at the scientific advice on reopening.”

Also: 

“A Whitehall source said: “The focus is getting primary school pupils back first but only if the R [a measure of how the virus is spreading] is at a safe level. After primary schools have returned we will then look at years 10 and 12.”

Moving forwards

We need to wait until the Prime Minister’s “roadmap” – expected next Sunday – to find out more about how we will go forwards in England. However, I don’t think we should expect a detailed daily itinerary, but rather broad principles to end lockdown, as we saw with the Scottish Government’s COVID-19: A Framework for Decision-Making and the Welsh Government's five key principles for schools’ return.

Further information/Updates

“Safety first and foremost.” General Secretary interviewed on BBC Essex about schools reopening fully, 3:08:00, 7 May 2020

All updates and information for members can be found on the Voice website (www.voicetheunion.org.uk/coronavirus).

Returning to school in Wales: a little clarification after the confusion

What Voice would like to see before schools and nurseries reopen

"The thought of reopening fully is challenging"

 

Comments

We are currently providing care and activities for key worker children and vulnerable children,which has about 19 daily attendants. Socially distancing is impossible, nursery and ks1 children can't keep away from one another and as soon as ks2 children step outside the classroom they are like magnets to each other. Many of our younger children still need help with toileting with regular accidents requiring changing of their clothing plus all of the first aid we do daily just on bumps, grades and cuts. I feel vulnerable and unsafe as a member of staff for myself and my family but also I know If an infected child was at school we wouldn't be keeping them, other children and their families or staff safe. My colleagues and myself are becoming increasingly anxious to the point of tight chests, emotional panic moments. I do not want any children's deaths even a potential one on my conscience for 're opening schools before it's safe and not just because the economy needs us to.

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