Unions welcome schools closure

UPDATED

Unions have welcomed the news that schools in the UK are going to be closed by the weekend due to coronavirus.

NEU joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said: “We welcome the government’s announcement that, for public health reasons, schools will now close. It is better for this to take place in an ordered way than the chaotic pattern of closures that was developing.

“We also welcome the clarity that SATs, GCSE, AS- and A-Level exams are to be cancelled. This offers some degree of reassurance to teachers, their students and parents.

“We note that, at this time of emergency, the government has decided that teacher assessment is indeed a good method of giving reliable information about young people’s progress and achievements.  We will return to that when this crisis is over.

“Now, more than anything else the government needs to concentrate on ensuring that children in food poverty are fed properly – these children are not just those on free school meals.”

EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “The EIS had a series of constructive discussions with the Scottish government about the need to make a decision to close schools.  The escalation of the situation, and the change to government advice earlier this week, led the EIS to the view that school closures were now an absolute necessity.

“Subsequently, the First Minister has announced, this afternoon, that all schools and nurseries will close by the end of Friday. This decision will be welcomed by our members, who have expressed growing concern in recent days over potential increased risk to the health of pupils, staff, their families and the wider community.

“As the First Minister highlighted, there is a clear need for arrangements to be put in place  to deal with a range of important issues: including providing alternative arrangements for pupils in receipt of free school meals; appropriate provision and support for pupils taking SQA exams; and suitable arrangement for pupils of parents who are critical workers, such as those employed in the NHS or the emergency services.

“On the issue of supporting home learning during this period, a number of councils are looking at online learning solutions which may offer some provision, although they most certainly should not be seen as a panacea – ensuring equitable access for students is just one challenge.

“We have written, also, to Education Scotland to suggest that rather than every council or school reinventing the wheel in terms of providing learning activities while schools are closed, some national provision would be helpful, perhaps even utilising broadcast channels to engage as many young people as possible.

“The EIS welcomes the First Minister’s announcement and will now seek to engage both nationally and locally about appropriate working arrangements for teachers, in order that young people and their families can receive as much educational support as practicable during this challenging period.”

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “This has clearly been a difficult decision. Schools are already short-staffed because of Covid-19, but the closures will have a major effect on families across the country.

“Ensuring schools can stay open for children with parents on the front line fighting the pandemic is necessary. But this must apply to all workers with jobs in essential and emergency services, from hospital cleaners and porters, to 111 call handlers and social care staff.

“Pupils no longer in school will need extra support so their learning isn’t disrupted. The government must work with all education unions on a clear plan to help school staff and pupils make the best of the next few difficult weeks and months.”

GMB national secretary Rehana Azam said: “We understand the need to close schools, with the exception of vulnerable children and children of those defined as key workers, but more detail is urgently needed.

“If these changes are rushed through without close ongoing consultation there is a risk of serious unintended consequences for children and school workers.

“It is vital that ministers and officials work closely with staff representatives to make sure they have the protection and support they need.

“We call on the Department for Education to fully engage with all school unions in the weeks and months ahead – it is vital that these changes are done with school workers, and not to them.”

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