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National Education Union in Hertfordshire says Boris Johnson is wrong on reopening schools

The Hertfordshire branch of the country's biggest teaching union has told the Government it is too soon and not safe to open the county’s schools on Monday (June 1).

The National Education Union (NEU) has issued a statement by Joyce Field and Barhey Singh, joint district secretaries, calling for the resumption of classes for Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 children to be delayed for at least two weeks until June 15.

“Teachers and support staff have been working hard in the last ten weeks to support children and families, whether they have been in school or at home," they said. "We all want to see your children back in school and are looking forward to the day when our school communities can be together again.

Boris Johnson addressing the nation during the coronavirus crisis. Picture: BBC (35439118)
Boris Johnson addressing the nation during the coronavirus crisis. Picture: BBC (35439118)

“But for that to happen we must know that it is safe for children and staff – safety must come first for all of us. The Government wants schools to begin reopening for children in Nursery, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 from Monday, June 1. We believe this is too soon and that it is not safe to do this.”

They continued: “Top scientists in the [newly-formed] independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) agree with us and say that June 1 is unsafe. One of their key reasons is that the Government doesn’t yet have ‘contact tracing’ working – this is a robust system to identify all the contacts an infected person has had so that they can be told to isolate and be checked for coronavirus.

“The Government may have that running by June 15 and risks would have halved by then. So, by June 15 it is likely that the number of cases will be much lower and low enough for a system of testing, tracing and isolation to be in place, and working; this would be safer for pupils and families, staff and the wider community.”

The NEU has set five tests for the Government which it says must be met before schools should open for more children:

  1. Much lower case numbers so that contact tracing can work;
  2. A plan for social distancing in schools;
  3. A comprehensive system of virus testing in schools;
  4. A strategy for dealing with any outbreaks in a school;
  5. Continued protection for people, including staff who are vulnerable or at risk.

The union is calling on families to write to MPs in the county, including Hertford and Stortford's Julie Marson, to support the delay. See https://neu.org.uk/write-your-mp.

In Bishop’s Stortford, a group of 21 primary schools has already expressed concern about the June 1 deadline and announced an alternative approach.

This week in her column in the Bishop's Stortford Independent, Mrs Marson backed Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s deadline and urged those schools to work with Herts County Council. She said: “Without a safely managed return to school programme we are risking the education of a whole generation.”

She added: “If you are a teacher or parent please contact me, as many already have, and I will continue to share your concerns and ideas as we move forward.”

* The NEU was formed in 2017 by the merger of the National Union of Teachers and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. With more than 460,000 members, it is the largest education union in the UK.

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