Thousands of schools support staff across Wales believe schools should remain closed until September

Over 70% of school support staff across Wales believe opening schools June 29th is too soon, says the results of a UNISON survey, with the top concern amongst the workforce focussing on the challenges on social distancing within the education setting.

The survey, which ran for six days, garnered almost 4000 responses from school support staff, including teaching assistants, cooks, cleaners, administrative staff and caretakers. The 3780 responses included feedback from workers in each of the 22 local authorities in Wales and show a high level of concerns across Wales:

  • 72 per cent of respondents felt schools should NOT reopen before September
  • For 78 per cent, the main concern is how social distancing can be maintained
  • 72 per cent of respondents do not believe there are enough cleaning staff to keep schools safe
  • Only 20 per cent are confident their work setting has the staff, resources and expertise to ensure all health and safety measures and risk assessments are in place.

School support staff have been helping to keep Welsh school hubs open for vulnerable children and children of key workers during the lockdown. UNISON says staff are very keen to welcome all pupils back to school as soon as is safely possible but serious concerns remain over the practicalities of reopening at the end of June.

UNISON is pleased the survey results have prompted Welsh Government to review their strategy and re-emphasise their commitment to working with trade unions to strengthen schools guidance and provide the necessary local input to overcome the growing concerns of school support staff.

Jonathan Lewis, UNISON schools forum Chair, said:

“The engagement in this survey shows the strength of feeling and concern amongst school support staff. To receive almost 4000 responses in such a short period of time is remarkable and these voices must not be ignored.

“The overwhelming majority of teaching assistants, cooks, cleaners, caretakers, and the many other workers who make up the education team believe 29 June is too soon to open schools.

“To add to this, 60 percent of respondents feel there are not adequate numbers of cleaning staff to fulfil the huge responsibility of maintaining high cleaning standards across schools.

“The safety of our communities is paramount, as is instilling confidence amongst pupils, parents and the workforce. These results demonstrate that confidence is simply not there at the moment and there is a lot of work to do to address these concerns in a very short period of time.

“UNISON believes schools should return in September, but that will not stop us from engaging with Welsh Government, local authorities, and schools to ensure schools are as safe as they can be at this point.”

Sara Allen, UNISON Cardiff schools convenor, said:

“I am not surprised at the results to be honest. Support staff are used to being at the sharp end.

“Our experience at the hubs already indicates how things could pan out, with support staff being asked to provide lunchtime cover, cleaning duties in classrooms, and direct support to pupils.

“Some of the reports we are getting in from support staff across Wales are extremely concerning – schools with no hot running water, 80 staff called to attend a meeting the next day, staff told to go home to use the toilet, risk assessments only being carried out for vulnerable staff – the list goes on.

“We all want to see schools open again, but not at any cost. The safety of pupils and staff, which is the first of the Education Ministers five key principles, is being compromised.

“The opening of schools needs to be planned properly – this may be frustrating for the Welsh Government and local authorities, but we’d rather they be frustrated than place pupils, staff and the wider community at unnecessary risk.”

Notes to editors

Comments added by UNISON Cymru Wales school support staff members to our survey include:

Reopening the schools at this point even in a staggered or reduced way is ridiculous. All the good work and sacrifices made by people will be undone. Up until now the Welsh Government has been sensible about lockdown and school closures but now it just looks like they are giving in to pressure. The top scientists and chief medical officers have said it’s a terrible idea but no one is listening to them. Schools should not be open at all until things are under control. It is too dangerous. Teachers have done a great job of teaching from home and I’d rather sacrifice a few months of my children’s in-school education than be responsible for possibly spreading the virus.

Not enough is being done to protect staff. I have a very real fear that so many children returning at once will mean very high infection rates and possible deaths for teaching staff. I am scared and so are so many of my colleagues. We are not disposable

It has been made clear that social distancing cannot be adhered to at all times when we return to school as it just isn’t possible. I don’t think it is fair that I should have to return putting myself and my unborn baby at risk,

I think this is a rash decision which could put my own family at risk.
It’s is impossible for children to stay 2 metres away! If one is hurt or upset I will need to comfort that child! How can I possible do this safely?

Safety needs to be paramount. I have safeguarding my daughters due to asthma during the whole pandemic. There is no guarantee that the bubble they are placed in are being as cautious as I have been. The same applies for when I return to work, there are no guarantees that the children have not been visiting family/friends and having sleep over etc. The risk of transmission can increase greatly with this in mind.

I feel there are so many un-answered questions and uncertainty. For me as a single parent with a young child, whom I don’t want to return to nursery class as I know of parents who have not been socially-distancing themselves, or their children will be sending those children in. This equally makes me nervous as an employee. I feel there is not enough scientific knowledge that is exact to say certain things are safe. And I feel there isn’t enough room for error with the R rate at present.

I feel we have climbed a mountain and as we near the summit we are being sent back to the start of the path !!!! Improve online learning, utilise staff , help to deliver better lessons into the homes until the gov has a handle on what they are dealing with . I don’t want to get covid and I don’t want to bring it home to my family

I just don’t see how it would be beneficial to the children to have them come in staggered and only a day or two a week for the last few weeks.


Alastair Gittins, UNISON Cymru Wales press officer on 07816 53 83 97