Letter to Education Secretary about coronavirus

Letter from General Secretary Deborah Lawson. Variations of this letter have also been sent to Children's Minister Vicky Ford MP and to Shadow ministers.

The Rt Hon Gavin Williamson CBE, MP
Secretary of State for Education
Department for Education
20 Great Smith St
Westminster
London  SW1P 3BT

21 April 2020

Dear Secretary of State

I welcomed your announcement at the weekend that refuted the widespread speculation about the possibility of schools resuming normal opening soon, despite the current restrictions remaining for at least a further three weeks. Such 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.

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 supports 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 return to normal. Planning for a partial, phased, and/or full pupil return must be done in partnership with the profession, their representatives, and stakeholders if it is to be successful and accepted. I therefore look forward to working with you and your officials on this matter, which is of utmost importance to Voice’s teacher, teaching assistants and early years members.

I also applaud the positive step taken on home learning resources and laptops for disadvantaged pupils, which aims to ensure that all children can access learning resources while at home. I trust this can be actioned sooner rather than later to mitigate gaps in learning opportunities for disadvantaged pupils.

However positive these measures and messages are, they are in stark contrast to the inexcusable treatment of the early education and childcare sector regarding the financial support available to them through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme for furloughed workers. 

Dedicated early education and childcare staff are essential to the economic recovery of the country post pandemic. The guidance released on 17 April undermines the original promise of support to an already fragile and underfunded sector.

Bluntly, this will put the jobs of qualified, experienced early education and childcare professionals at risk, and jeopardise the future of the sector at a time when the country can least afford it. Parents will not be able to work and contribute to economic recovery if their children cannot be safely cared for or have access to high quality early education provision.

Employers furloughed staff three weeks ago, on the understanding that government financial support was available to pay staff at least 80% of their salary. They now find this is not the case and the support available is greatly reduced. To protect the sector and the jobs of valuable staff who will contribute to the essential economic recovery of the country and the sector, I ask you to reconsider the level of financial support available and fulfil the original promise made to the dedicated professional early education and childcare workforce to secure their jobs. 

I look forward to further dialogue with you and your officials on this matter as a matter of urgency.

Yours sincerely

Deborah Lawson
General Secretary
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