All education and early years staff in the UK must be vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as possible, according to Voice Community – the education and early years section of Community Union. The union’s call follows a survey of its members, which revealed that mass testing of staff and pupils, and priority for vaccination would make frontline staff feel safer at work.
Community’s General Secretary, Roy Rickhuss, has written to ministers in all the UK nations, calling for education and early years staff to be prioritised for vaccination, rather than having to wait for their age group to be vaccinated later in the year.
The thousands of staff in their 20s and 30s could potentially be the last group to be vaccinated, putting them and the children or students in their care at prolonged risk of catching or transmitting the virus.
Commenting on the survey, Assistant General Secretary (Voice) Deborah Lawson said: “Although schools and colleges are closed to most students, teachers and support staff continue to work face-to-face with key worker and vulnerable children, while nurseries, alternative provision (AP) and special educational needs settings in many areas remain fully open.
“Why has the evidence not been released to explain why these settings – where person-to-person contact is essential and social distancing is impossible – are considered safe to remain open, while mainstream schools and colleges have to close?
“Schools, colleges and nurseries have also suffered severe staff shortages because of infections and the need to self-isolate when cases in a bubble are identified.
“According to our survey, there are two things that government and employers can do to support the education and early years workforce to feel safe at work – introduce planned and supported mass testing of staff and pupils, and to prioritise staff for the vaccine as soon as possible.
“If we want to get transmission rates down, and schools, colleges and nurseries to return to some form of normality as soon as possible, we must test and vaccinate those working on the frontline.”
Key survey findings
- Regular testing of staff (70%) was the most frequently cited method of improving feelings of safety in the education workplace, with testing of pupils at 49%.
- In special education settings, 57% recommended testing for both staff and pupils.
- Across all types of setting, 59% of respondents felt that vaccination for staff would make them feel safer.
- In the early years, two out of every three respondents felt that all staff being vaccinated would help to make them feel safer. This was almost identical to the number who would like to see staff regularly tested.
- In schools, 60% of respondents were clear that vaccination would have a significant impact on feelings of safety.
- In schools, 71% felt that regular testing of staff would make them feel safer.
- Testing of pupils (51%) and wearing of face coverings in classrooms for staff (35%) and pupils (21%) were all notably less popular methods of possibly improving safety.
- In further and higher education, 60% were in favour of regular testing, but only 13% were in favour of early vaccination.
This analysis is based on a data sample of 593 responses in December 2020, split across England (82%), Scotland (13%), Wales (4%) and Northern Ireland (1%) giving a reasonable view of opinions of Voice Community members.