Schools Are About to Reopen In the UK, But Is It Safe to Go Back?
Thu, January 27, 2022

Schools Are About to Reopen In the UK, But Is It Safe to Go Back?


UK Prime minister Boris Johnson confirmed that parents and teachers should prepare for the reopening of schools in England on June 1, reported British news channel BBC. Johnson intended to reopen schools for early years pupils, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 on the said date. Up to a quarter of Year 10 and Year 12 will be allowed “some contact” for exam preparations on June 15.

A lot of teachers expressed concern about the wider reopening of schools, with Johnson acknowledging that it “may not be possible for all schools.” The prime minister said that the government will support schools that are “experiencing difficulties” to help them reopen as soon as possible. Johnson commented that it is a critical part of the government’s response to the outbreak, asserting that children’s education is important “or their welfare, their health, their long-term future and for social justice."

Surveys Reveal Education Staff’s Concern About COVID-19 Measures

UNISON, Scotland’s biggest and liveliest public service trade union, surveyed more than 5,000 education staff in Scotland between May 18 and May 22, finding that 83% of education staff were anxious about returning to work or increasing the number of children returning to school if the staff are at work. 13% of education staff were losing sleep worrying about it. Only 3% said that returning to work or increasing the number of children in schools and nurseries is safe.

78% of staff who are working with pupils and families right now were concerned about their safety at work and 27% said they know risk assessments have been employed but are not confident that action has been done to address issues. A smaller percentage of education staff (25%) were not aware that any risk assessments have been implemented. 10% said they were trained on COVID-19 health and safety such as infection control, correct use of PPE, or conducting a COVID-19 assessment.

24% felt that establishments were sanitized often enough to keep them safe from the virus. 46% felt they did not have enough PPE, 42% did not know what they should have, and only 12% felt there was enough PPE. 43% stated that their workplace does not have the staff, resources, and expertise to make sure that all health and safety measures and assessments are in place, 19% felt they were, and the rest said they did not know. Of those with children, less than 10% said they felt safe for their kids to go back to school or nursery.

A report done by the National Education Union—a trade union in the UK for school teachers, further education lecturers, education support staff, and teaching assistants—involved 2,560 mainstream school staff in England about the management of the COVID-19. Conducted from May 2-3, the trade union reported that one-third of educators had self-isolated since March. Only 11% had access to regular temperature checks in their school. 23% of staff were currently shielding themselves to protect themselves or a member of their household because of pregnancy or pre-existing medical conditions.

However, the number was higher in London (28%). 30% of educators spent time in self-isolation since the lockdown was imposed, and the percentage was also higher in London (36%). 1.5% of the respondents had been tested for COVID-19. 11% of 1,931 respondents who regularly attend work in their school said their school conducted a temperature check for staff and pupils. 22% said their school did not have sufficient soap and/or hand sanitizer and the same proportion noted that there was no routine of handwashing.

When asked how confident they are in the social distancing measures for pupils at school, 4% of 1,931 respondents answered “very confident,” 14% said “confident,” and 22% said “neither confident nor concerned.” 32% said “concerned” while 29% admitted that they were “very concerned.”  When asked how confident they are that the social distancing measures for staff at school are appropriate, 6% said “very confident,” 22% answered “confident,” and 23% said “neither confident nor concerned.” Only 30% and 20% answered “concerned” and “very concerned,” respectively.



Is It Safe for Kids to Go Back to School?

The Department of Education’s report acknowledged that it will be challenging for kids to stay two meters apart. Hence, hand washing and the use of bin tissues are highly important to ensure safety. Kids can be infected with COVID-19, but most of them exhibit only mild symptoms. For instance, 2% of hospital admissions for COVID-19 in the UK are children below 18 years old. Deaths among children are also rare.

Likewise, there have been cases of children with a potentially deadly inflammatory syndrome documented across the globe. This syndrome has been associated with COVID-19, however, it is rare as it affects only one in 1,000 COVID-19-exposed children, experts stressed.

Michael Tildesley of Warwick University, who works on models of the spread of diseases, explained that schools could close again, which would depend on the “R” number or the effective reproduction number. He emphasized, “If we do start to see the reproduction number going above 1 and cases climbing again we should be prepared to take the decision to close schools again.”



Education Sector Raises Concerns

Teaching unions, head teachers, and many local authorities had raised their concerns about the government’s proposal. Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, asserted that the union disagreed about the wider reopening of schools. He urged the government to “engage meaningfully” with unions to smooth out concerns such as PPE for staff and procedures for dealing with the pandemic.

In Scotland, schools will reopen on August 11 while those in Northern Ireland will not be expected to reopen before September. Wales ruled out the June 1 school reopening as the education minister said that they will only reopen "when it is safe to do so." Head teachers’ leaders noted that the government "has not done a good job in building confidence."

Johnson commented that teaching unions, head teachers, and local authorities in England would be given the opportunity to “ask questions and probe the evidence” in the days to come. He added that “detailed guidance” about how to ensure safety had been released. The details included staggered break times, smaller classes, drop-offs and pick-ups, and reduced use of shared items. Staff and students would have access to COVID-19 testing and if they test positive, they will have to take appropriate measures, Johnson said.

Schools will need to take extreme caution when students and staff go to class. While there are concerns that children are falling behind in their studies, educators may more likely be concerned about contracting the virus and transmitting it to their families.