Giving all staff priority testing, reducing the size of pupil ‘bubbles’ and making face coverings compulsory on school buses would help ensure schools can continue to stay open in the coming weeks, education unions say today (Wednesday 23 September).

In a joint letter to education secretary Gavin Williamson, several proposals are outlined by UNISON, GMB and Unite to reduce the risk of infection for children and staff​, and reduce the likelihood of ​entire school​s clos​ing.

The ​letter stress​es that all school employees should have priority access to testing – not just teachers – and full pay must be given to lower paid workers who need to isolate. ​It also calls for more information to be shared with staff about suspected Covid-19 cases at their schools.

The three unions – representing school support staff across the UK including teaching assistants, technicians, catering workers, cleaning staff, caretakers, and receptionists – say the government must introduce additional measures to halt rising infections.

Unite national officer Ian Woodland said: “As we enter the second wave of Covid-19, it is vital that everything is done to keep schools open to provide a solid education for the next generation of employees.

“The key to this is a comprehensive ‘test and trace’ system for staff and schoolchildren – something, in the eight months of the pandemic, the government has conspicuously failed to provide.”

UNISON head of education Jon Richards said: “It takes just one infection at a school to disrupt learning, potentially for dozens of children, as well as putting the health of staff and families in the community at risk.

“The government’s lack of clarity means it’s not clear if teaching assistants are covered by the new testing rules. But without testing for caretakers and cleaners some schools won’t open, and pupils and staff won’t be safe.

“With the virus taking hold again, the government must use all options to reduce the spread. School closures will create further childcare difficulties for key workers, who the country will be depend​ing upon in the coming months."

GMB national officer Karen Leonard said: "GMB and other unions have worked hard throughout the summer to ensure schools stayed safe for pupils, staff and parents – despite vilification from the Conservative establishment.

"With Covid cases increasing throughout the whole of the UK, we have written to the government setting out constructive suggestions for our schools – including full contractual sick pay for all those working in our schools."


Notes to editors

The full letter can be read here.

For more information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 020 3371 2060 or 07768 693940. Unite press office is on:  020 3371 2065.

Please note the numbers above are for journalists’ enquiries only.

Email: [email protected]

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Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.