Unions respond to “inconclusive” SAGE advice about re-opening schools

Unions have responded to the scientific papers released this afternoon by SAGE.

NEU joint general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said: “Throughout this crisis the NEU has been consistent. We have been resolute in protecting the safety of our members, the children they teach, their families and the wider community. We have also demanded our seat at the table in talks with the Department for Education, and regularly requested access to the science driving the government’s decisions on the wider opening of schools.

“Today, two months since lockdown was introduced, the government has finally granted access to some of the scientific modelling behind its proposal for schools to open more widely from June 1.

“We are surprised that the wider opening of schools proposed by Boris Johnson has not been modelled by SAGE. This points to a cavalier attitude towards the nation’s children.

 “The fact of the matter is that SAGE has only weak evidence as to what extent children can transmit the virus to others.  The Office of National Statistics has recently indicated that age does not affect the likelihood of being infected. And last week, the government’s scientific panel told us that there are cases where children do act as the index case.

 “If we cannot be certain about the transmission of the virus – and it appears SAGE cannot, either – then it is only right to exercise caution.

“Today’s report from the Independent SAGE group, chaired by Sir David King, casts further doubts. They have no confidence in a robust track and trace system being in place by June 1, nor low enough levels of Coronavirus in the community. King told us today that the chances of either of those being in place by the government’s hasty, arbitrary date, is ‘virtually nil’. The report argues that a postponement of two weeks would halve the risk of children getting the disease.

“It remains the case that the NEU does not yet think it safe for the wider opening of schools. In addition to track and trace and the case numbers, we need to see regular testing and PPE for those who need it.

“There is a huge disconnect between announcement and delivery. It is not sufficient for the Prime Minister to tell the Commons we will have a ‘world-beating’ track and trace system within 12 days, and expect the whole country – and school leaders – to take a leap of faith with him.

“The government has made many missteps since this crisis began, and the DfE was slow to bring all education unions on board. We are glad that the science, or some of it, is now available to us. We invite scientists across the country to help us assess the evidence published and clarify any uncertainty and the level of risk in front of us.”

NASUWT general secretary Dr Patrick Roach said: “The evidence presented by SAGE in terms of justifying the decision by Government to start to reopen schools from 1 June is inconclusive.

“The papers highlight the significant gaps in evidence, knowledge and understanding which remain in terms of the susceptibility of children to COVID-19 and how infectious those with mild and asymptomatic cases of the virus may be.

“The Committee states that large-scale community testing is needed to better understand and monitor the prevalence of and susceptibility to COVID-19 in children, yet the government’s plans for the reopening of schools from 1 June are premature whilst a widespread community testing system will not be in place.

“The SAGE papers published today will only add to teachers’ uncertainty and anxiety.

“Importantly, the Committee has concluded that interventions around preventing the spread of the virus must be eased in a logical manner.

“However, the arrangements for easing the current restrictions on schools have been far from logical and are yet to secure the confidence of parents and school staff.

“The NASUWT remains of the view that no school should reopen until it can be demonstrated that it is safe to do so. We remain ready to work with the government on a way forward which will ensure that staff and pupils can return to schools safely.”

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