Teach­ers call for two-week half term

Union de­mands schools are closed as part of na­tional ‘cir­cuit breaker’ lock­down

The Daily Telegraph - - Front Page - By Camilla Turner Ed­u­ca­tion Edi­tor

BRI­TAIN’S big­gest teach­ers’ union has backed a so- called “cir­cuit breaker” lock­down and called for se­condary schools and col­leges to be closed for an ex­tended two-week half term.

The in­ter­ven­tion by the Na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion Union (NEU) comes amid sus­tained pres­sure on Boris Johnson from Labour, the Gov­ern­ment’s sci­en­tific ad­vis­ers and the NHS for a rein­tro­duc­tion of na­tion­wide re­stric­tions.

At a press con­fer­ence yes­ter­day, the Prime Min­is­ter said he wanted to avoid such mea­sures, but that he “can­not rule any­thing out”.

The NEU came un­der fire ear­lier in the pan­demic for re­sist­ing at­tempts to get chil­dren back into class­rooms be­fore the sum­mer hol­i­days, de­spite the dev­as­tat­ing ef­fects that school closures have on pupils’ learn­ing.

Kevin Court­ney, joint gen­eral sec­re­tary of the union, said that teach­ers un­der­stood the ad­verse im­pact that clos­ing schools for an extra week would have on chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion.

“But we also un­der­stand that in ex­po­nen­tial epi­demics early ac­tion is es­sen­tial. Tak­ing ac­tion now can avoid more dis­rup­tion later,” he said. “The Gov­ern­ment must not just turn a blind eye.”

Al­though the virus poses al­most no risk to chil­dren, schools were shut from March 20, with most re­open­ing in Septem­ber.

An ex­tended half term would also present child­care prob­lems for par­ents. While any cir­cuit breaker may be de­scribed as a tem­po­rary mea­sure, if cases did not fall, re­open­ing schools again could prove dif­fi­cult.

The NEU’S calls for chil­dren to stay at home for an ex­tended half-term break put them at odds with min­is­ters who are keen for schools to re­main open even in “very high” risk ar­eas.

In­fec­tion rates among se­condary school pupils are rising more sharply than in any other sec­tion of the pop­u­la­tion, apart from univer­sity stu­dents, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est data from the Office for Na­tional Sta­tis­tics. Over three weeks, the pro­por­tion of pupils aged 11 to 16 who tested pos­i­tive for Covid-19 rose from 0.28 per cent to 0.93 per cent.

The NEU’S in­ter­ven­tion comes amid ten­sion be­tween the Gov­ern­ment and its sci­en­tific ad­vis­ers over Covid con­trols. On Mon­day, min­utes from the Sage group showed they had called for a cir­cuit breaker three weeks ago. A tem­po­rary lock­down is sup­ported by Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, and NHS Providers, which rep­re­sents NHS Trust lead­ers.

A Gov­ern­ment spokesper­son said: “Schools have put in a range of pro­tec­tive mea­sures, en­dorsed by Pub­lic Health Eng­land, to re­duce the risk of trans­mis­sion.

“The Chief and Deputy Chief Med­i­cal Of­fi­cers have re­peat­edly con­firmed chil­dren do not drive infections in the com­mu­nity in the same way as with other infections like flu. Their as­sess­ment re­mains the risks to chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion and well­be­ing from not at­tend­ing school out­weighs any other risks.”

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