by : Julia Banim
Thousands of teachers are now calling for schools and colleges to close during the second lockdown in England, with over 100,000 people signing a petition created by the National Education Union (NEU).
The petition argues that schools should remain open only for those whose parents are key workers and for vulnerable children, and that by keeping schools open, the government is running the risk of a longer lockdown period.
Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimate that 1% of primary school pupils and 2% of secondary pupils have coronavirus, with these levels having increased significantly since schools reopened in September.
An analysis of these figures, conducted by the NEU, reveals virus levels are now nine times higher among primary school pupils and 50 times higher among secondary school pupils.
In response to this alarming new data, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the NEU, said:
It is clear from ONS data that schools are an engine for virus transmission. It would be self-defeating for the Government to impose a national lockdown, whilst ignoring the role of schools as a major contributor to the spread of the virus.
Such a lockdown would impose pain on the whole community – but not be as effective as it could be if schools were included. Ignoring the role of schools and colleges in the spread of the virus is likely to lead to the need for even longer lockdowns in future.
The government has reportedly ignored the NEU’s previous call for a two-week circuit break over half term to include schools, as has been seen in Wales and Northern Ireland.
Now it’s believed that ‘more severe measures’ will be required, with Courtney urging the government to ‘not make this mistake again’.
The Government should include all schools in proposals for an immediate national lockdown and as a minimum be preparing for school rotas at the end of that period, including by actually meeting its promise to deliver broadband and equipment to those children who do not have them.
It is also vital that the Government ensure proper financial support for all those affected by lockdown including crucial supply teachers and other staff.
The new measures announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday, October 31, will see public places and businesses shut from November 5 onwards, as was the case back in March.
However, essential shops such as pharmacies and supermarkets will remain open, as will places of education such as schools, universities and nurseries.