Continuing his hapless mismanagement of the education service during the pandemic, Gavin Williamson has changed guidance on the opening of nurseries from that initially sent out at the beginning of term. The opening of school-based nurseries had initially been left to headteachers to decide and in schools open to only vulnerable and critical workers (the latter a widened category compared with key workers) it made little sense to open nurseries to all children and thus increase the potential of contagion.
The DfE has now issued guidance that nurseries should be full open.
Brent NEU has written a letter to Brent MPs Barry Gardiner, Tulip Siddiq and Dawn Butler; Muhammed Butt leader of Brent Council and Cllr Tom Stephens lead member for schools asking them to intervene in what could be a life or death matter.
Dear Brent Councillors and MPs,
As you know, there is great pressure to open nurseries and special schools fully during this lockdown despite the fact that Sadiq Khan has today declared a major incident and school settings have been shown to be a major transmission factor with the new variant of Covid-19.
In Brent our nursery and special school headteachers have, as usual, put safety first, and resisted opening to increased numbers of children. As you know this is in line with the policies of all education unions, the NEU included.
However they are now being pressured to implement this government's shameless edict just at the moment that deaths and cases reach a record high, the virus is out of control, we hear of deaths of our workers every day and the NHS in London is at breaking point.
I'm afraid I have to be brutally honest with you here. I cannot morally bring myself to advise my members (when they write to me concerned that their settings are going to fully open to children and staff) that they must go into their school or nursery, because the reality is that I know that if I give this advice, some will subsequently become seriously ill or die. This is the reality.
I feel I have no option but to advise against this. However it is within the gift of the council and MPs to come out publicly and state that you will not require your schools and council officers, in Brent, to adhere to DfE advice where that advice contradicts with the evidence we have on safety, risk and the headteachers' own risk assessments.
With that in mind I am asking you now if you can offer this support? Of course, not only would this protect my members from harm but it would help halt the spread of the virus, help save hospital beds and also prevent the deaths of pupils, bearing in mind that children with learning disabilities are six times more likely to die from Covid-19.
I am happy to meet with any of you to discuss this further, or indeed, organise a public meeting so that you can hear the views of our Brent community on this.
I look forward to hearing from you on this matter, as soon as possible.
Brent NEU Joint District Secretary.
Vice Chair, NEU National Health and Safety Organising Forum.
Meanwhile the National Governors Association (NGA) has drawn attention to the problem of more than the expected number of vulnerable and critical worker children attended school, undermining the intention of school closures to stop the spread of the virus. Boris Johnson had insisted both that schools are safe and should close as they are vectors for the spread of the new strain:
One of the main issues we are currently in dialogue with the DfE is on the number of children who are attending schools despite there being a national lockdown with a stay at home request from the Prime Minister with supposedly schools closed to most pupils: significant numbers of governing boards are reporting that they have between 40 and 70% of their pupils attending in strong contrast to the first lockdown. We are also aware that there are particular challenges for special schools, alternative provision and those with large numbers of disadvantaged children, but it is helpful to make the case if we have your stories to bring the points alive.
Mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org