The government should restrict school and nursery opening in England as in the first lockdown to help bring the national rate of infection down and ensure the safety of pupils, staff and the wider community, says UNISON.
The union has also called on the government to come up with the necessary funding so children from low-income families can have access to tablets or laptops, allowing high-quality education to continue for everyone.
The union has written to the Department for Education calling for an urgent meeting so the government can explain why all schools are to remain open during the second English lockdown.
If ministers are determined to keep schools open, they must introduce a range of precautions to reduce the risks, with increased funding to match, says the union.
These include priority testing for all school employees, requiring face coverings for all pupils and staff, and allowing many vulnerable workers to do their jobs from home where possible.
The government must also share detailed scientific evidence about the risk of infection in schools, colleges and universities to justify their continued opening.
UNISON head of education Jon Richards said: ‘Statistics show the return of schools, colleges and universities has played a major role in spreading the virus.
‘Everyone agrees the well-being of pupils is vital, but so is the safety of staff. The government and the scientists must explain the reasons for education workplaces staying open directly to those at the sharp end.
‘Flashing a chart in a televised briefing and giving short soundbites simply isn’t good enough.
‘Education staff need a detailed and convincing justification about why they’re excluded from lockdown and why closures of schools or rotas of classes aren’t part of the plan.
‘The safety of staff and pupils shouldn’t be compromised. If the government keeps schools open, much tougher measures to reduce the risks are needed.
‘Testing must be readily available to all school workers to keep them safe and stop the virus spread.’
A Department for Education spokesman said: ‘We are prioritising children’s and young people’s education and wellbeing, by keeping nurseries, schools, colleges and universities open.
‘The Chief and Deputy Chief Medical Officers have highlighted the risks of not being in education on their development and mental health.’
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