Voice Community – the education and early years section of Community Union – has described plans to reopen all schools and colleges to all students from 8 March as “a reckless act which risks further disruption to education, and contrary to the supposedly ‘cautious’ approach to lifting restrictions the Prime Minister is reportedly advocating”. However, the union welcomed news that staff at private, voluntary and independent nurseries will have access to tests to use twice weekly at home, following calls for this from Voice Community.
Deborah Lawson, Community’s Assistant General Secretary (Voice section), also said:
“Even with some discretion for secondary schools and colleges on a staggered return to allow for testing to be put in place, this isn’t a ‘cautious’ approach but a reckless throwing of caution to the wind.
“Voice Community has been calling for a phased reopening. Phasing the wider opening of schools, as we have seen in other home nations, would avoid the chaos of 20 million people congregating together with the associated parental traffic all in one day.
“We welcome further details on, and increased use of, COVID testing of staff and pupils and face coverings, but are concerned that the testing of students, and administration of home testing, all at once will further reduce classroom teaching time.
“Too much too soon is self-defeating and risks further disruption to the education of our children.
“A phased return, in conjunction with testing of staff and pupils, affords the ideal opportunity to respond quickly and effectively to any increase in infection rates within the school and wider community.
“We repeat our call for all education and early years staff to be vaccinated as soon as possible in order to help get transmission rates down and encourage staff to feel safe at work.
“We do, however, welcome the news that all staff at private, voluntary and independent nurseries will have access to tests to use twice weekly at home from 22 March, as we had raised concerns about the lack of testing for early years staff. We were pushing for this and are pleased that ministers listened.
“Members who have specific concerns about their workplace should contact us for advice.”
A phased return
Voice Community believes that a phased return to classroom learning would:
- enable the logistical challenge of pupil and staff testing to be managed to minimise further loss of classroom learning and ease pressure on workload;
- serve to increase the confidence of staff, pupils and parents that a combination of staff and pupil testing and in-school and community safety measures will
- not increase, or halt the decline, of infection rates;
- afford schools the ability to act dynamically should they need to address rising infection rates in their community; and
- be sustainable in the long term, reducing the risk of further disruption to the education of our children.