THOUSANDS of teachers, as well as the parents of hundreds of thousands pupils, are set to defy the government’s instructions for Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 to resume classes today.
Appearing on Sky TV’s Sophie Ridge on Sunday programme yesterday, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, the biggest teachers union, was asked: ‘Do you support more children going back to primary school tomorrow?’
She replied: ‘No. We think that tomorrow is too soon and we have made that argument very, very clearly for a number of weeks now ever since Boris Johnson made his announcement on 10th May.’
Earlier, four members of the government’s scientific advisory body expressed worries about the safety of primary school opening.
SAGE members Professor Peter Horby, chair of the government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG); Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Institute; John Edmunds, professor of infectious disease modelling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Calum Semple, professor in Child Health and Outbreak Medicine all expressed fears about the easing of lockdown.
Professor Horby warned that SAGE ‘does not have a good handle’ on the role of children and schools in transmission.
Professor Edmunds said: ‘There are still 8,000 new infections every day in England without counting those in hospitals and care homes … If you look at it internationally, it’s a very high level of incidence.
Professor Farrar tweeted: ‘Covid-19 spreading too fast to lift lockdown in England.’ Professor Semple said: ‘Essentially, we’re lifting the lid on a boiling pan and it’s just going to bubble over … We need to get it down to simmer before we take the lid off, and it’s too early.’
He also said that levels of transmission and hospital admissions are still too high. ‘I think a political decision has been made to tie in with when school was due to start, were everything normal, but it’s not normal.’
In response, NEU joint general secretaries Kevin Courtney and Dr Mary Bousted said: ‘This public break by four prominent members of the government’s SAGE committee changes everything.
‘No-one can now confidently assert that it is safe to open schools more widely from Monday.
‘All four of these independent members of SAGE agree that there must be a lower number of cases and an efficient system of contact tracing working before there is a relaxation of lockdown measures. Both these measures are included in the NEU’s Five Tests.
‘Opening schools more widely runs the risk of increasing the R rate and therefore the level of risk to staff and to parents.’
Dr Bousted commented: ‘So that’s the government’s own SAGE advisor, Professor Peter Horby, who didn’t know to what extent and whether children transmit the virus.’
She warned: ‘The government has given up on social distancing in schools. They talk about cohort distancing – so there are 15 children in a class with a teacher, for five or six hours a day. Those children are from families who from tomorrow will be able to go out and socialise with six other people.
‘We’re asking them, without PPE, and without social distancing, to go into schools at a time when the rate of infection is still the sixth highest incidence in world!’