Covid: NASUWT and NAHT threaten action over Wales school return plan

3 weeks ago
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Unions representing teachers and heads in Wales have called for face-to-face teaching to be suspended in response to the new coronavirus variant.

The NASUWT has threatened “appropriate action in order to protect members whose safety is put at risk”.

Head teachers’ union NAHT Cymru said it had taken legal action against the Welsh Government to obtain scientific evidence it said it was “withholding”.

The Welsh Government said it had agreed an approach with local authorities.

According to councils, many secondary schools aim to return from 11 January, with some fully open on 6 January.

Welsh schools have been asked to make provision for vulnerable children and children of key workers from this week.

All pupils will be expected to take part in remote learning before their schools reopen for face-to-face teaching.

But teachers’ unions have said more time is needed to understand the new Covid-19 variant.

While “completely committed” to ensuring children return to school as soon as possible, NASUWT general secretary Patrick Roach said it was now “abundantly clear that the pandemic is seriously impacting on the ability of all schools to continue to operate normally”.

“The NASUWT will not hesitate to take appropriate action in order to protect members whose safety is put at risk as a result of the failure of employers or the Welsh Government to ensure safe working conditions in schools.”

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Neil Butler, the union’s official for Wales, said there was “chaos and confusion” in the Welsh education system, and that “the buck has effectively been passed to local authorities and some authorities have passed it down to individual schools”.

Mr Butler said a suspension of face-to-face teaching would allow schools to review their risk assessments in light of the new variant.

A Welsh Government spokeswoman said: “We have agreed with local authorities a common approach to schools returning in January with some flexibility built in over the first two weeks of term.

“It is our expectation that pupils, when not in school, will continue to benefit from remote learning.”

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What is happening with schools in other parts of the UK?

Secondary schools in England will stagger their return with pupils taking exams in 2021 starting on 11 January, and other year groups returning in person on 18 January. Most primary schools in England will return on 4 January, but in London and some surrounding areas they will not open for most pupils until 18 January.

In Northern Ireland, primary school pupils will be taught online until 11 January. In secondary schools, years 8 to 11 will be taught online throughout January. Years 12 to 14 will return to school after the first week of January.

In Scotland, the Christmas holidays have been extended to 11 January, and the following week will be online learning only. A full return to face-to-face learning is planned for 18 January.

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Laura Doel, director of NAHT Cymru, said “control of infection has been lost” in large parts of Wales, which had created an “intolerable risk to many school communities”.

“It is simply unacceptable for schools to remain open when there is such a question mark over the impact the new variant will have and we will not sit back and let this happen without calling the Welsh Government to account, for the sake of the whole school community,” she added.

Ms Doel said the union had taken legal action “to force” the Welsh Government “to disclose the scientific information they are withholding” which has guided its policies.

In England, pressure is growing on the government to keep all schools closed for two weeks after the Christmas break amid a surge in coronavirus cases.

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BBC News – Wales

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