NEU urges government to start closing schools as new coronavirus guidance 'increases anxiety'

The country’s largest education union wants the government to close some schools after claims new government guidance on containing coronavirus has “increased anxiety and uncertainty”.

The National Education Union intends to tell is members who are now considered high risk – pregnant women or those with underlying health issues – to stop attending school from Monday.

It comes as the ASCL school leaders’ union warned that “between 10 to 20 per cent” of teachers are now self-isolating, with attendance running at between 70 and 80 per cent.

It follows yesterday’s update guidance that vulnerable people should confine themselves for 12 weeks from this weekend.

The letter, from joint general secretaries Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, said this will make the running of schools “all the more complicated”.

It read: “Given your failure to release modelling comparing different scenarios of school closures, we are now forced to call on you to close schools, at least for some time and at least in some areas.”

The NEU suggested members would be willing to volunteer to “play a role in helping our society get through this crisis”.

If all schools are closed, staff could man some schools as community hubs to look after the children of NHS staff, food and distribution workers, police and fire brigade staff, ensure children on free school meals are provided with food and support other children in need.

The letter added: “Given the number of staff and pupils that will now be off school, teachers and leaders will simply have to exercise their professional discretion about whether schools and colleges open and what work is undertaken – and they should do so with your approval.”

Schools Week reported yesterday confusion over new government guidance for pregnant staff – urging them to work from home, but insisting schools stay open.

Chris Keates, acting general secretary of the NASUWT, said the government announcements “continue to be couched as guidance or advice which is simply serving to increase anxiety and uncertainty”

“Schools are struggling with ever diminishing staffing levels and are being driven to make arrangements for changes to staff working conditions which have the potential to compromise the health and safety of staff and pupils. This situation cannot be allowed to continue.

“The UK Government working with governments and administrations across the UK must now make a definitive decision about the steps being taken to protect the school workforce and the closure of schools.”

Geoff Barton, ASCL’s general secretary, said although his union did not have “definitive data” on the proportion of teachers who are self isolating, it was “typically hearing that it is between 10 to 20 per cent, and that this number is rapidly rising”.

“It’s our understanding that some schools are already instigating a partial closure today and foresee this extending further tomorrow.

“Attendance at school is also falling, and is typically running at between 70 and 80 per cent. This is also likely to become worse as the situation develops.

“It is clearly becoming increasingly difficult to keep schools open and we now urgently need some clear strategic planning from the government.”

New guidance published by the government last night advised on social distancing measures to reduce social interaction between people and reduce the transmission of coronavirus.

The Department for Education coronavirus helpline is open between 8am to 6pm and can be reached on 0800 046 8687.