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Teachers demand school closures as government fails to comfort staff

THE government’s lack of clarity on what schools should do during the coronavirus outbreak “is causing chaos and confusion and placing intolerable pressure on all staff,” teaching unions warned today.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a public announcement underlining the growing gravity of the Covid-19 crisis on Monday but stopped short of ordering schools to shut.

NASUWT acting general secretary Chris Keates said that the PM’s statement “failed to give the clear and definitive” directions that would enable individuals, organisations and services to make confident decisions.

She said: “All of the announcements continue to be couched as guidance or advice, which is simply serving to increase anxiety and uncertainty.

“The lack of clear information with regard to the steps to protect teachers, head teachers and other staff working in schools in the context of commentators constantly referring to the threats posed by children carrying Covid-19 is causing chaos and confusion and placing intolerable pressure on all staff in schools and their families.”

Ms Keates warned that the lack of specific information for schools already struggling with ever-diminishing staffing levels has created a rising sense of panic, with the potential to compromise the health and safety of staff and pupils.

She said: “The UK government, working with governments and administrations across the UK, must now make a definitive decision about the steps being taken to protect the school workforce and the closure of schools.”

The National Eduction Union’s joint general secretary Mary Bousted did welcome the decision yesterday to halt Ofsted inspections in schools.

She said: “This announcement is as welcome as it is overdue. Schools are operating in extraordinary circumstances and must be able to focus on what is essential. This does not include Ofsted inspections.”

But the NEU also repeated its call for school closures “at least for some time and at least in some areas.”

In their second letter to the PM since Saturday, Dr Bousted and joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said that the union would advise its vulnerable members and those caring for people at particular risk from the virus to stay away from schools and colleges from next week.

The union said that plans could be made for “more limited opening,” with low-risk volunteer staff taking care of the children of parents “who must do the work our society needs,” including NHS staff, food and distribution workers, police and prison officers and fire service employees.

There must also be measures to ensure that children receiving free school meals and others in food poverty can eat nutritious meals, the union added.

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