Teaching unions are ramping up strike threats over their demands for the Government to close schools during the second national coronavirus lockdown.
Boris Johnson has insisted schools will remain open during the shutdown, which will start on Thursday, but union bosses are adamant they should close, labelling them an ‘engine for virus transmission’.
They claim there has been a ‘fifty-fold increase in infections in secondary schools alone since September’.
The National Education Union (NEU) today stepped up its efforts to force the Government to change tack as it launched an ‘Escalation’ app which will allow its almost 500,000 members in schools ‘to organise and take action if needed’.
Teaching unions are calling on the Government to close schools as part of the England-wide lockdown which starts on Thursday
But Boris Johnson, pictured in the House of Commons yesterday, said the Government has a ‘moral duty’ to keep schools open
The new app will provide teachers with a checklist to keep track of their Covid-19 safety concerns and offer suggestions on how they should be dealt with, according to the Huffington Post.
If teachers feel their concerns are not addressed by head teachers and local leaders then they could opt to withdraw their labour or seek a union ballot for strike action.
On Saturday, the NEU launched a campaign calling for the Government to close schools and colleges as part of Mr Johnson’s England-wide lockdown plan.
More than 150,000 teachers and support staff have now voiced their backing for the campaign and 20,000 have written to their MP and lobbied them on social media, according to the union.
Teachers are hoping to persuade MPs to force the Government to perform a U-turn on the issue ahead of a vote tomorrow in the House of Commons on whether the lockdown will go ahead.
However, Mr Johnson yesterday said he believed the Government has a ‘moral duty to keep schools open now that it is safe to do so’.
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: ‘The response to our call this weekend for school closures shows that our concern is widely shared.
‘The Government is failing our communities as well as our schools and colleges and that is why we are seeking an amendment to Parliament’s lockdown bill.
‘We have seen a fifty-fold increase in infections in secondary schools alone since September. Schools, clearly, are an engine for virus transmission.’
Meanwhile, a leading medical expert has warned not closing secondary schools could lead to a longer lockdown.
Andrew Hayward, professor of infectious diseases epidemiology at University College London and a member of the Government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said it is clear there is ‘substantial transmission’ within secondary schools.
Prof Hayward told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think it’s clear that there is substantial transmission within secondary schools.
‘And we are of course needing to prioritise education and we know that children who are infected in schools are very unlikely to have severe consequences.
‘But I think one of the consequences of not closing secondary schools would be that we may need to be in lockdown for longer than we might otherwise have to be.’
The Association of School and College Leaders has suggested that one way to avoid closures would be to introduce a rota for pupils so they could rotate between remote learning and actually being in the classroom.
Julie McCulloch, director of policy at ASCL, said: ‘The situation with Covid infection rates is clearly very precarious and there may need to be further restrictions which affect schools.
‘But it is important that we don’t see this as an all-or-nothing situation. A first step, if it is needed, could be to introduce a rota system in secondary schools with pupils rotating between remote education and attendance in school.
‘The priority, alongside keeping pupils and staff as safe as possible, must be to keep as much direct teaching going as we can to minimise further disruption to these young people.’
A Department for Education spokesman said: ‘We are prioritising children’s and young people’s education and wellbeing, by keeping nurseries, schools, colleges and universities open.
‘The chief and deputy chief medical officers have highlighted the risks of not being in education on their development and mental health.’