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UK: ‘Brave’ education staff in open schools need extra protection during COVID-19 outbreak

The National Education Union has called on the British Government to put measures in place to protect students and education staff in schools that remain open to the children of frontline workers.

The National Education Union (NEU) has highlighted the brave work being undertaken by staff in those schools and colleges that have remained open. The call came as incidences of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) increase across the UK.
“In less than three weeks, according to our country's current trajectory, we will be in the same situation as Italy,” said Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the NEU. “Our priority as a union is to our members and the children and young people they work with. We are concerned that Government advice for schools is not currently strong enough. We have got to get on the front foot if we are to slow transmission and flatten the curve.”

Targeted measures
The NEU is demanding that urgent measures be taken to ensure the safety of students and staff. These measures include:

  • Testing of all education staff
  • No staff at heightened risk should attend schools and colleges
  • Rotas should be introduced for those who continue to go to their place of work
  • COVID-19 testing should be made available to schools that remain open. With many parents on the list of key workers, an extensive effort is required to make sure every school can access these tests
  • Government protocols on social distancing and handwashing for children must ensure safety. Most children are themselves at low risk but are nonetheless carriers, so intensified cleanliness and minimised exposure have to become the norm in those schools which have to remain open.

Brave work
“We are liaising with the Department for Education to ensure action is taken on all of these points,” Bousted added. “If we are to help the community, which we should, we need maximum protection from the Government. Our members are doing enormously brave work right now. As with NHS [National Health Service] workers, they are putting themselves at risk. Our ethical responsibility is to them.”