BMA says teachers’ unions are ‘absolutely right’ to claim it is unsafe for schools to open on June 1 while Children’s Commissioner leads calls to get pupils back as soon as possible
- Anne Longfield called on union leaders to work with ministers to get pupils back
- Former Labour education secretary has also criticised trade union intransigence
- A string of school leaders have spoken up to back the reopening of classrooms
The British Medical Association has said teachers’ unions are ‘absolutely right’ to say it is unsafe for schools to open on June 1 – as The Children’s Commissioner led a chorus of influential voices urging unions to co-operate with plans.
Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, called on union leaders to work with ministers to get pupils back to the classroom as quickly as possible.
Former Labour education secretary Alan Johnson also criticised trade union intransigence, while a string of school leaders and academics spoke up to back the reopening of classrooms next month. Academy schools in particular asked teachers to defy the unions and prepare for a reopening.
Yesterday, the Government’s top medical and scientific advisers met union leaders to reassure them the Government’s plans to reopen schools on June 1 were safe for children, staff and parents.
Anne Longfield (pictured), the Children’s Commissioner for England, called on union leaders to work with ministers to get pupils back to the classroom as quickly as possible
But union chiefs dug their heels in and suggested they would continue to advise members to shun preparations for primary school children in England to begin a gradual return next month. They were backed last night by the British Medical Association, the union that represents doctors.
It sets the scene for a major confrontation between the two sides in the next fortnight.
Ministers have drawn up proposals for a phased return that could see children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 start to go back to schools in England on June 1. But unions believe schools cannot be reopened safely and won’t engage with the plans.
Mrs Longfield, who represents the rights of children, urged union leaders to ‘face reality’ and work with ministers to ‘make this work’ as she warned of the dangers of youngsters missing out on vital education.
The Children’s Commissioner, who is independent of government, said: ‘I am disappointed that the debate about when some primary school kids can return has descended into a squabble between Government and the teaching unions. All sides need to show a greater will to work together in the interests of children.
‘We know that the longer schools are closed the greater the impact will be on social mobility and that many children are really struggling without seeing their friends and the structure that school brings.
‘We need to face the reality that, for a number of reasons, there are hundreds of thousands of children who can’t access meaningful education at home.’
Yesterday, the Government’s top medical and scientific advisers met union leaders to reassure them the Government’s plans to reopen schools on June 1 were safe for children, staff and parents (file image)
Mrs Longfield added: ‘It is now up to the Government and the teaching unions to work together, along with the many teachers who are not in unions, to find solutions in the best interests of children and make this work.’
The National Education Union said its views were ‘unchanged’ after a briefing with the Government’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance. Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary, said: ‘Very many questions that we asked were not addressed in the time available.’
In a further move to placate the unions last night, the Department for Education released an overview of scientific evidence into the reopening of schools.
The document said: ‘There is no evidence to suggest children transmit the virus any more than adults. Some studies suggest younger children may transmit less.’
Mr Johnson said: ‘Many of these children would be better off back at school. The early years are crucially important.
‘I hope that having sought assurances, the unions will be able to see schools reopen on June 1.’
Unity Howard, director of the New Schools Network, said: ‘The actions of the unions are completely unconscionable – now is the time for sensible grown-up debate.’
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: ‘Getting children back to school is vital for their educational development and many schools are already taking steps to welcome back their pupils.’
Deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries said the likelihood of anyone having Covid-19 in a primary school was ‘very small and diminishing’ and suggested teachers did not need to wear face masks.
Dr Harries warned of the longer-term health risks to children who did not get a good education.
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