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March date for UK schools’ reopening too early to call, say teachers’ unions

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The Prime Minister is wrong to say schools might re-open in March before having the evidence that it would be safe to do so, teachers’ unions have said.


Mr Johnson told a Downing Street news conference this week that 8 March may be a “sensible” date for schools to go back.

He added that plan “depends on lots of things going right” including driving down case numbers, which have not slowed down as fast in this lockdown as in the first.

Schools could be the first to re-open despite the Prime Minister saying they are a 'vector for transmission'.

Commenting on the statement, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: “In setting out a potential date of 8 March, Boris Johnson is falling once again into his characteristic and too often misplaced optimism, he is pre-empting a decision that will have to be made in mid-February at the very earliest.

"If we come out too early, we will end up in lockdown again. Hinging his argument for schools according to the first four vaccine groups developing immunity by 8 March, is not enough in itself.

"This may protect the elderly and most vulnerable adults in the population, but it does not protect parents. It fails completely to recognise the role schools have played in community transmission. The Prime Minister has already forgotten what he told the nation at the beginning of this lockdown, that schools are a 'vector for transmission'.”

Re-opening schools is part of the roadmap out of the restrictions. Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, the Prime Minister set the date of the week beginning 22 February, for releasing a plan for how lockdown could be eased.

Mr Johnson admitted yesterday that the timetable is "inevitably subject to adjustment" and "depends on lots of things going right", particularly the UK's vaccine rollout.

He added: "It also depends on us all now continuing, above all, to work together to drive down the incidents of the disease."

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of NAHT, said: "What is clear from the Prime Minister's statement is that there are too many unknowns, such as the effectiveness of the vaccine and the pace at which infections are falling, to put the 8th March date firmly in the diary yet.

"The government now needs to collaborate with school leaders and their teams to make sure that there is a workable plan for lifting the lockdown. This includes reviewing all of the safety measures that schools have been using up to now, to make sure they are still effective.

Mr Whiteman added that teachers must be prioritised for vaccinations. “This would give confidence as well as providing a better chance that once lockdown measures are lifted, children's education is less likely to continue to be disrupted by staff absence and illness."

 

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