Teachers call for two-week half term
Union demands schools are closed as part of national ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown
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.”