Union calls for staff to shun reopening plans are 'counter-productive', says largest trust CEO

Union demands that their members should not engage in planning to reopen schools on June 1 are “counter-productive”, the head of the country’s largest academy trust has said.

In a letter to the National Education Union and teachers’ union NASUWT, United Learning chief executive Sir Jon Coles said schools need to plan properly and safely – but finding the best solutions involve staff in planning.

Both the unions oppose government plans to start welcoming some year groups back from June 1.

But Coles wrote: “I think that your advice to your members not to speak to leaders about planning places both leaders and other teachers in a difficult position and is counter-productive in risking making it harder to produce the best plan.”

We should be working together so that we can speak with one voice at the time of re-opening

He said there is a “great deal of common ground”, including that wider opening should not happen until the government’s five tests are met.

“It therefore seems to me that we need to be talking to each other and I hope that you will feel able to change your advice to members to support constructive engagement and detailed involvement in planning at school level,” he added.

“More generally, we should be working together so that – if at all possible – we can speak with one voice at the time of re-opening, giving confidence to parents and teachers.”

He added the trust, which runs 72 schools according to government data, is “taking great care to support the welfare of our colleagues your members and if there are things we can do to give you the fullest confidence in that, we are more than happy to discuss that”.

It comes as Jenny Harries, the government’s deputy chief medical officer, said today there are a “number of signals” that the back-to-school plan is a “safe place to go”.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson also said that a decreasing rate of infections would give them the “green light” to reopen from June 1.

He also wouldn’t be drawn into criticising unions who are opposing the government’s plans at today’s coronavirus briefing, instead saying his “door is always open”.

But Dr Patrick Roach, NASUWT general secretary, said: “The bottom line is that no teacher or child should be expected to go into schools until it can be demonstrated that it is safe for them to do so.”

He said schools are looking to the government for “clear and unequivocal guidance on the health and safety measures they will need to have in place prior to reopening”.

Meanwhile the NEU has its own five tests it believes must be met before more pupils are allowed back to school. Their stance has also been backed by the British Medical Association, a trade union and professional association for doctors.

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