Thursday, 4 June 2020

NEU survey shows realities of wider opening of schools

From the National Education Union

Respondents to a survey conducted by the National Education Union between 31 May and 1 June, reveals the pragmatism of schools when asked to open more widely under easing of lockdown.

44% of schools did not open more widely to the any of the year groups suggested by the Prime minister on 1 June - with the vast majority of them remaining open to key worker/vulnerable children as they have been since 23 March.

35% of schools opened on 1 June on the terms expected by the Prime Minister.

21% of schools opened more widely, but on less than the terms expected by the Prime Minister.

By the end of this week, an additional 6% of schools will have opened more widely, but more than two-thirds of them to less than the eligible set of year groups.

The regional variation in school openings tracks closely with the levels of Coronavirus in each region. Just 12% of schools in the North East and 8% in the North West – where levels of coronavirus are higher – opened fully to all eligible year groups in their school.

23,045 members responded to the survey. One representative from each school was used in the final weighting. In total 10,953 schools are covered by the sample, amounting to 63% of nursery and primary schools in England (17,322). Results have been filtered where relevant to exclude ‘don’t know’ or ‘no answer’, resulting in a smaller sample for some questions while remaining a reflection of schools not members.

Pupil numbers expected:

Less than 25% 16%
Between 25%-50% 41%
Between 51%-75% 32%
Between 76%-99% 9%
100% 1%

Commenting on the results, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:
Schools have been open throughout lockdown, caring for children of key workers and vulnerable children. It is clear from our latest survey, marking the start of lockdown easing, that many schools intend to delay wider opening. Some are not extending their opening beyond key workers and vulnerable children this term. Many have delayed wider opening until later in June. Others will be opening for some but not all the age groups recommended by Government. All this will make our communities safer.

It was always reckless of Boris Johnson to set an arbitrary date and expect schools to fall in line. Heads and their staff know far more about their individual challenges than Whitehall ever will. As the regional variation according to Coronavirus levels show, schools are listening to the science rather than politicians.

This disconnect should be a wake-up call for Government. Not only is the safety of the Government’s plan in question but also the feasibility of it and confidence of headteachers in what the Prime Minister requested. The Prime Minister should now act to ensure that education unions are involved in the planning of further steps as they are in Scotland and Wales.

The NEU and many prominent scientists, including Independent SAGE, believe it would have been safer for all schools to begin the move to a wider opening in a couple of weeks from now, when the number of new cases per day should be lower and the system of testing, tracking and isolation of new cases is bedded in.

Our survey shows this continues to be a complex, challenging situation for schools. Heads, teachers and support staff are using their professional judgement, working with the children they teach in circumstances where official guidance has been published long after planning needs to start.

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