Coronavirus: NEU says questions remain after government scientific briefing

exclusions NEU

The National Education Union has said its questions about the safety of reopening schools have still not been addressed after a government scientific briefing.

The union, which represents more than 400,000 teachers, leaders and support staff, said it was “pleased” with the meeting with government science and medical officers but that “very many questions that we asked were not addressed in the time available”.

Unions were invited to the briefing in an attempt to address growing concerns about the government’s aim to have children start returning to schools on June 1.

In a statement published this afternoon, joint NEU general secretary Kevin Courtney said: “We think it is very important that all the questions are answered and in public written form. This is important for transparency and for other scientists to comment on.”

The union also said that Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, had said information and papers from SAGE would be published “and that they will prioritise its release”.

“We have also asked to see any commentaries or papers produced by Public Heath England that comment on the Department for Education’s guidance,” the union added.

“We were told that we are in the foothills of knowledge and there is still a lot of uncertainty about the science, for example, we were told children’s likelihood to transmit Covid-19 is not more than adults but only that it may be less than adults.

“Just yesterday the Office of National Statistics suggested that age does not affect the likelihood of being infected. Today we heard that there are cases where children do act as the index case.”

The NEU has also outlined the questions to which it feels it still has “no understandable answer”. These are as follows

  • How they will know the effect on the R rate of the current lifting of lockdown before further steps are taken?
  • What are the conditions that need to have been achieved before any wider opening of schools e.g. is there a particular daily case count that they are hoping for?
  • Why our country seems alone in saying that social distancing is not necessary in schools? We were not presented with any scientific evidence to justify the decision not to include social distancing in the guidance to English schools whereas it is an important part of the guidance in other countries, in fact we were told that they have evidence that children have passed the disease to adults.

It comes after the British Medical Association, a trade union and professional association for doctors, backed the National Education Union’s five tests for reopening schools.

In a letter of support sent to the NEU, Chaand Nagpaul, the BMA’s council chair, said the organisations public health medicine committee had “considered the evidence available on the reopening of schools and has found it thus far conflicting”.

This is “perhaps unsurprising, given the relatively small amount of research available and the unchartered territory we find ourselves in”, Nagpaul said.

He pointed to a study in New South Wales which found “very little transmission” associated with schools, and a “more recent” paper in Berlin which suggests children are “just as likely to be infected as adults, and may be just as infectious”.

“We therefore need to know a lot more about the infectivity of children. In light of these studies, however, the view of members of the PHMC is completely algned with the NEU that, until we have got case numbers much lower, we should not consider reopening schools.”

The NEU’s five tests are: much lower numbers of cases, a national plan for social distancing, access to regular testing for children and staff, a whole-school strategy and protection for the vulnerable.

“The NEU is absolutely right to urge caution, to prioritise testing and to protect the vulnerable. We cannot risk a second spike ot take actions which would increase the spread of the virus, particularly as we see sustained rates of infection across the UK,” Nagpaul added.

Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, said: “I want to reassure parents and families that we are giving schools, nurseries and other providers all the guidance and support they will need to welcome more children back in a phased way and no earlier than 1 June.

“That’s why we have engaged closely with stakeholders from across the sector throughout the past seven weeks, including the trade unions, and today we arranged a detailed briefing for them with the scientific and medical experts.”


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  1. Janet Downs

    The Mail’s front page today screamed, ‘Let Our Teachers be Heroes’. It claimed there was a ‘row between teachers and unions’ about schools reopening. But the unions represent their members. The row isn’t between teachers and their unions but between teachers, unions and the DfE.
    The Mail, whose staff won’t of course be joining teachers on the front line, sound rather like those in WW1 who accused men who hadn’t joined up as being cowards. I’m waiting for the white feathers to appear.

    • Mark Watson

      Of course there are rows between teachers and unions. Not all teachers will agree with the position taken by their union. Couldn’t be any other way. There are of course plenty of other rows ongoing involving DfE, RSCs, Central Government, parent groups and many more.

      The Daily Mail isn’t interested in putting across an intelligent objective position though because … well it’s the Daily Mail isn’t it?

      The Mail is the comic that, in a piece on schools reopening on 1 June referred to “four academy chains – Reach 2, Harris, Oasis and GEP – which teach a quarter of the UK’s children”. Those four chains operate a total of 166 schools out of the roughly 24,000 schools in England. And that doesn’t include the schools in the rest of the UK. Not really very close to 25% is it?

  2. Julie Ward

    I think the Unions have their own agenda which is to make as much political gain as they can from this awful situation. I have actually heard this from teachers but I can assure them that parents are worried that they have an hidden agenda which is jeopardizing children’s education in this Country. The Government have made it perfectly clear that the proposed steps are indeed cautious and not written in stone for 1st June. If the R rate or anything else deems it unsafe for children, they will not be going back to school and that will not be anything to do with Union action. Most UK parents get this.

  3. Sally Meredith

    So very true and everyone is missing the point it won’t be education it will be childminding x Teacher’s from all year groups with no EYFS experience to teach !!!

  4. Chris Brooksbank

    So at least 65 deaths of school professionals not including TAs, with about 1% of pupils in school (essential worker & vulnerable children), can we extrapolate that?
    The infection rate needs to drop. It was about 700 a day when schools closed, and that is now thought to have been to late. What rate for reopening?
    Children’s Commissioners research showed groups of 4 to 6 per bubble for nurseries – is that the starting point. And in those that opened they had infections in over 50% of settings. If that is acceptable in a risk assessment what measures will be added to mitigate and respond when infections occur?

  5. Robert Phillifent

    Of course Bousted and her beardy weirdy sidekick are scientists?!! I don’t think so! So why the hell are they questioning scientific data they don’t understand?

    These two are just far far left political agitators who just can’t accept that their political party lost BIG TIME last December. The NUT, NEU or whatever you want to call it ,is not really interested in the education of children, they are much more interest in pursuing a Trotskyist political agenda which is a “anti”. Anti everything!

    And by the way,what is this phoney ie. lying, membership figure? It’s only that size because they include “retired” members. More lies from the former NUTS! And another thing. From which university did Bousted acquire her doctorate ? Or is this another fiction?

    It’s no secret that the NEU is swarming with Communists, Trots., members of the SWP etc. etc. I know because the NUT rep. in the school I taught in was a card carrying member of the COMMUNIST PARTY!! Needless to say I was not in the NUTS union!

    So in a nutshell, why don’t you get off your fat lazy arses and do the job for which you are paid (handsomely). Because if you don’t you might find that you WON’T get paid and could find yourself stacking shelves at Aldi where the staff haven’t been so yellow bellied and have worked throughout this crisis. And they don’ t get 12+weeks holidays per year either!