Commenting on the announcements on the national lockdown in England and new guidance for schools in Scotland, Deborah Lawson, Assistant General Secretary of Community Union (Voice the Education and Early Years Section), said:
“It is imperative for the education, welfare and mental health of children and young people that education and early years settings remain open – but only if it is safe to do so.
“We must ensure that everyone is kept safe and expect systems to be in place to ensure this.
“There is no substitute for face-to-face teaching and learning, and we are concerned that the closure of schools and colleges would only further disadvantage a generation who have already had their education severely disrupted.
“We must be guided by evidence-based scientific and public health advice guidance on whether settings should remain open, and on the provision and use of PPE.
“We call for additional funding from the government to ensure early years, schools, colleges and universities can acquire the necessary resources without further impacting on learning.
“Further safety measures – including on face-coverings and PPE, social distancing and public transport – may be required. Colleagues and I will be seeking answers and reassurance from ministers and officials, including in meetings today.
“Any additional measures that are introduced must take account of staff workload.
“Education settings must not become the scapegoats for problems with Test and Trace system and wider failure to curb the spread of transmission in the community.
“Closing or partly closing schools must be a last resort, but settings and the general public need clear and well-communicated guidance from government about when and how existing contingency measures would be implemented.
“We welcome the extension of the furlough scheme, which will be essential to the sustainability of the PVI (private, voluntary and independent) early years sector.
“There must be rigorous systems in place if settings are forced to close, in terms of online learning, and decisions on the future of exams must be reviewed so schools and students can prepare.
“Voice Community has expressed concern in the past over the expectation on staff to live stream lessons. Safeguarding measures must be put in place to protect both teachers and pupils.
“We must not see teachers forced into teaching live lessons from home whilst also being required to care for and home-school their own children.”