Throughout the COVID-19 crisis our schools have remained open to the children of essential workers and our hard-working education workforce have remained active in very difficult circumstances. Some have continued to deliver classroom-based education; those not in schools have rapidly adjusted their teaching practices in order to maintain the essentials of education including subject work, vital structured feedback, and extensive pastoral support.
Members from South Cambridgeshire Constituency Labour Party and South Cambridgeshire’s Labour Councillors Gavin Clayton and Nigel Cathcart would like to put on record our gratitude for the vital role that both teaching and non-teaching staff have played during this time of crisis to ensure continuity for students during these uncertain times.
We agree with teachers and the teaching unions that children should return to schools as soon as it is safe to do so. We therefore support the National Education Union, which supports over 450,000 teachers across the country, in setting out 5 tests1 for the government to meet before beginning any phased reopening of schools in South Cambridgeshire. Unions perform an essential societal function in representing the collective interests of their members and we welcome their attempts to engage constructively with the government in order to ensure the health and well-being of the education workforce.
These 5 tests state:
Test 1 : Much lower numbers of Covid-19 cases
The new case count must be much lower than it is now, with a sustained downward trend and confidence that new cases are known and counted promptly. And the Government must have extensive arrangements for testing and contact tracing to keep it that way.
Test 2 : A national plan for social distancing
The Government must have a national plan including parameters for both appropriate physical distancing and levels of social mixing in schools, as well as for appropriate PPE, which will be locally negotiated at school-by-school and local authority level.
Test 3 : Testing, testing, testing!
Comprehensive access to regular testing for children and staff to ensure our schools and colleges don’t become hot spots for Covid-19.
Test 4 : Whole school strategy
Protocols to be put in place to test a whole school or college when a case occurs and for isolation to be strictly followed.
Test 5 : Protection for the vulnerable
Vulnerable staff, and staff who live with vulnerable people, must work from home, fulfilling their professional duties to the extent that is possible. Plans must specifically address the protection of vulnerable parents, grandparents and carers.
We note the meeting between the Chartered College of Teaching2 and the Department for Education and support their calls for greater clarity around the scientific evidence used to support decisions relating to the phased reopening of schools. This is particularly important in light of comments from Professor Chris Whitty stating that that we are still ‘at the foothills of understanding this virus’. We also support the statement from the Chartered College that ‘Attacks on our professionalism when teachers have shown great resilience and positivity in the face of huge obstacles is unjustified and harmful. It is imperative that the Government works with teachers and the whole teaching community for the benefit of children and young people.’
We note also that the latest scientific guidance from SAGE published by the DfE3 acknowledges that the transmission of the virus in children is not yet well understood, stating that:
The exact rates of infectivity and transmission of children is not fully known yet; this is a novel virus and the scientific understanding is developing all the time. However, the current understanding is that:
We believe that in light of this, a precautionary principle should be fundamental to any decisions relating to the phased reopening of schools, and that this principle should be applied to more general decisions around easing lockdown too.
Only when the NEU’s five tests are met, and the government have engaged sufficiently with unions, parents, and the wider education workforce such that all involved have confidence that schools are safe environments for both children and staff, can a phased reopening be initiated. We support the teaching unions’ attempts to negotiate with the government.