Back to school row: ‘Don’t knock the teachers!’

Unions confront government over plan to send some children back to classrooms on June 1

Friday, 22nd May 2020 — By Tom Foot

Karen Buck

MP Karen Buck said any ‘extended return to school must protect the safety of children and teachers’

EDUCATION unions are calling on the public “not to knock teachers” for opposing plans to send hundreds of Westminster children back to school next month, warning: “Everyone has a right to work in a safe environment.”

Ruth Gibson, secretary of Westminster National Education Union, said there were “lots of very worried education workers out there” since the government’s announcement this week.

Primary schools have been told to reopen for reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils from June 1.

There has been a government backlash against opposition from teaching unions who have been criticised for thinking of themselves over children.

Ms Gibson said: “In my opinion they have been very hypocritical, when you consider the austerity measures over the years, the redundancies we have had to deal with, the cuts to public services, the libraries that have been closed down, the Sure Start centres…

“It’s our most vulnerable children that have suffered through all of this. Now they are putting it out to blame the teachers for getting in the way of children’s education and wellbeing.”

She added: “It’s easy for them to label teachers as lazy and militant but at the end of the day we just want the best for the children. Don’t knock the teachers. Everyone has right to work in a safe environment.”


Cllr Timothy Barnes: ‘It is those children that don’t have access to good quality home learning that have particularly missed out over recent weeks’

The National Education Union’s position is that schools should reopen “but only when it is safe” and not at an “arbitrary” date. It has published five key tests that should be passed before any school can reopen.

Ms Gibson said: “How can you get early-years children to socially distance? Do we deep clean the toys every night? Or do we have no toys out? They say it is our civic duty not to travel on public transport, but how are teachers going to get to work? Teachers have their own children, they want them to be safe.”

Most primary schools in Westminster have re­mained open to vulnerable children and those with key-worker parents since mid-March. There are concerns that some children have been falling behind because of the paucity of online education during the lockdown.

The city council’s education chief Cllr Timothy Barnes said: “It is those children that don’t have access to good quality home learning that have particularly missed out over recent weeks. We look forward to seeing more children go back to school.”

He said the council had been working with schools to “ensure risk assessments are carried out and measures are in place to keep classrooms safe for children and members of staff”, and added: “We fully support our primary schools extending their offer to reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils to attend from June 1.”

Labour MP for Westminster North Karen Buck said she had a “real concern” about failures to provide enough computers to children who needed them to learn. She said: “Obviously we all want children back in education as soon as possible and it is a sad reality that the most disadvantaged pupils have the greatest amount to lose from being out of school for prolonged periods.”

But she said any “extended return to school must protect the safety of children and teachers”, and added that there was “a real issue with parental confidence” and that the government needed to work collaboratively with the unions.

She said: “However the phased return is rolled out, I also want to be reassured that our children, and especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, are receiving a quality offer of virtual education in the meantime.”

Secondary schools are likely to stay closed until September.

The headteacher of Westminster Academy, Dr Saima Rana, said in a parent newsletter this week, said: “While we miss our students dearly and cannot wait to see each other again, the health and safety of staff, students and their families is our utmost priority and we are not willing to jeopardise that in a rush to reopen.”

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