We need clarity and direction on Coronavirus

General Secretary interviewed about Coronavirus on BBC Radio Derby.

By Richard Fraser, Editor

General Secretary Deborah Lawson's interview about Coronavirus on BBC Radio Derby, 17 March 2020 (from 2:07:01 and 2:37:44)

Summary of main points:

Current decision not to close schools “could have gone either way”.

No blanket closure at the moment “is a recognition that there are so many different local conditions in play at the moment”.

Deborah Lawson:

“I have written to the Secretary of State about this.

"Our members are concerned for their own safety and that of their families, and that is quite right, but they are also extremely concerned about the safety and welfare of their pupils.

“So they can understand why schools are being asked to stay open, and that is down to local conditions, but if they are in a situation where there are insufficient teachers for a school to continue stay open – it is not safe for a school to stay open – then individual decisions need to be made.

Are many parents keeping children off school already?

There are media reports that parents are keeping their children off school:

“This may be quite legitimate. They may be as a family self-isolating…that is the right thing for them to do.  

“We have to take the advice from the Chief Scientific Officer and Chief Medical Officer. We, as an education union, are not the medical or hygiene experts. We have to take the advice from them."

Inevitable that schools, colleges, nurseries will be closed at some point?

Deborah Lawson:

“I think there will be some shutting at some point.

“I think it is more likely that there will be individual school closures, based on the fact that they can no longer safely operate because they have too many staff who are having to self-isolate or are ill with the condition.

“That may happen first, but we have to remember we are about to approach the exams season.

“We need some clarity and some direction from Ofqual and from the Department for Education on what’s actually going to happen with the exams.

[Not got that yet]. [That’s something] “I have asked the Secretary of State about.

“Schools need to know that, if there is going to be a closure, is it going to be a complete blanket closure?

“Is it going to be a partial closure?

“Are there going to be priorities on the exam front? Are they going to prioritise A levels over GCSEs, for instance?

“All of these things need to be thought through.

“I think what is concerning the profession, and the whole education workforce, is the fact that they are being told that schools will stay open ‘for the time being’ and will be closed if it is ‘necessary’, but we don’t know what the triggers are. We don’t know what the thinking is behind it.

"And that’s what we want. We want clarity. We want the engagement with the Department."

Contradictions of advice not to got to pubs and restaurants but okay for students to congregate in  schools [“or colleges”] with thousands of others and use public transport

Yes, have to think about that and also school transport issues and particularly of children with special educational needs who may have a compromised immune systems, or particular respiratory problems. We have to think very carefully about that. Often they come in specialised transport or in taxis.

“We have to look at the infection control options there."

Confident that government thinking through all the options?

Deborah Lawson:

“They are making considerations, but they are blanket considerations and perhaps what they need more information on is what it’s really like down there in the classroom, at school level, and understanding exactly what the concerns are of the whole education workforce – the teachers, the school support staff, everybody.

“And making sure there is sufficient information so that they are reassured that the decisions that are being made are in the best interests of the, but also of pupils in education.”    

 Questions from listeners

Are there things schools are or should be doing?

Deborah Lawson comments on above tweet about emergency measures in a school:

“That tweet is really good. It is showing that schools are taking things very, very seriously. They are assessing things. They are risk assessing the impact on their staff and on their pupils, and they are taking the right precautions.

“All schools, as with any business, will have emergency plans, or business continuity plans, and they will be enacting them.

“This isn’t something they will have had to sit down and think about overnight. These are things they will already have in place… making risk assessments… are very important, and it may mean some schools will close, or partially close, at some point.”


Other countries closing schools but not UK

Deborah Lawson: Yes, different approach here.

“Our members need reassurance that the decisions not to close schools are being made in their best interests and for the right reasons.

“The workforce will probably be 50-50 on schools should stay open..be closed.

“There are individual circumstances. There will be members of the school workforce who will have responsibilities for vulnerable young people or older adults.

“Therefore they are worried that although young children and pupils are least likely to, hopefully, be affected by Coronavirus, they are able to pass that on, and they do not want to be taking that back.

“I was reading something online about university students saying they can’t go home because of putting their parents at risk.”

Queues outside school gates…mass gatherings?

Deborah Lawson:

“Again, we haven’t been given the same sort of guidance from government on that.

“We know that in other places it’s been suggested that mass gatherings of 500 or more shoudn’t be happening…. France has gone into lockdown.. talking about much smaller numbers.

“It’s about being sensible and taking sensible, reasonable precautions.”

Further information


Coronavirus information


Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.