Covid-19: Teachers’ union accuses Government of creating ‘chaos and confusion’

A lack of advice for schools amid the coronavirus pandemic is creating “chaos and confusion” and placing “intolerable pressure” on staff, a teachers’ union has warned.

The NASUWT, which represents teachers and head teachers, said there was a “rising sense of panic” as it called for a definitive decision on how to protect staff and pupils.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson stopped short of announcing school closures as he unveiled unprecedented peacetime measures to try to control the spread of Covid-19 on Monday.

Although he added that the measures will remain under review, the union criticised Mr Johnson for failing to give “clear and definitive directions” to schools.

Chief medical officer Chris Whitty, Boris Johnson and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance during Monday's briefing (Richard Pohle/The Times)
Chief medical officer Chris Whitty, Boris Johnson and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance during Monday’s briefing (Richard Pohle/The Times)

In a statement on Tuesday, NASUWT acting general secretary Chris Keates said: “All of the announcements continue to be couched as guidance or advice, which is simply serving to increase anxiety and uncertainty.

“The NASUWT has to date been advising our members in the context of the advice issued by governments and administrations and public health bodies across the UK.

“However, 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.”

It added: “The NASUWT has consistently raised a series of concerns with ministers since this national crisis began to unfold and whilst we have sought not to second-guess the science and medical advice and worked to support members in the increasingly difficult situation, the lack of specific information for schools understandably has created a rising sense of panic.”

Schools are struggling with diminishing staff levels, according to the union, while changes to staff working conditions have the potential to compromise health and safety for both staff and pupils.

“This situation cannot be allowed to continue,” Ms Keates said.

Do you have questions about Coronavirus in an education setting?

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— Department for Education (@educationgovuk) March 16, 2020

“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.”

Meanwhile, London Mayor Sadiq Khan told ITV’s Good Morning Britain that advice on school closures could change in coming weeks.

He said: “The advice is that it makes very little clinical difference in relation to closing schools but that advice may change in relation to what we do know is some teachers may be pregnant, others may have underlying health issues, a child may have a persistent cough or temperature which means mum, dad, carer decides to withdraw the child.”

Mr Khan added: “I wouldn’t be surprised if, over the course of the two weeks before Easter, Government advice changes.”

It comes after unions representing teachers – who met with Education Secretary Gavin Williamson on Monday – warned it was “likely” a number of schools will be forced to close due to a lack of staff.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), the NAHT school leaders’ union and the Confederation of School Trusts (CST) held talks with Mr Williamson to discuss the implications of schools being closed and exams being postponed due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

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