Responding to plans published today (Thursday) by the government for the full return of schools from September, UNISON head of education Jon Richards said:
“Everyone wants all children to return to the classroom as soon as possible. There are still issues, though, around staffing and safety.
“Test and trace must get a whole lot better for social distancing to be reduced and large pupil ‘bubbles’ to become the norm. Otherwise whole year groups would have to isolate when a child gets ill.
“There also must be guarantees teaching assistants don’t become permanent substitute teachers.
“Some have been filling in gaps left by staff going sick with Covid-19 or shielding. But this can’t be the case long term – teaching assistants aren’t trained as teachers, nor paid to do their jobs.
“Vulnerable pupils and those with special educational needs should be a priority. Staff want to get back working with these children, but social distancing is a challenge.
“Risk assessments are vital to ensure staff are protected from infection. Yet the government has largely ruled out using personal protective equipment.
“Telling schools just to get on with it isn’t the way forward. Instead, ministers must work with school staff and unions to agree safe ways of getting pupils back to the classroom.”