UNISON lead officer for schools, Rosie Lewis
School support staff belonging to UNISON want Welsh schools to remain closed to face-to-face teaching for the whole of January and the trade union urges Welsh government to urgently consider, as in England, staying closed until after the February half-term because public safety is at risk with spiralling infection rates.
Yesterday, Education Minister Kirsty Williams, said schools will move to online learning until 18 January but UNISON says there is no way the essential preparatory work to ensure schools are safe to re-open to all pupils could be undertaken by then.
Staying closed for the whole of January would allow Welsh government some time to review the latest scientific and medical advice; for schools to have a complete review of their risk assessments based on the new variant and to agree a plan for a properly resourced and implemented introduction of Lateral Flow Device testing in schools, according to UNISON.
The trade union also criticised the last-minute nature of the Education Minister’s announcement yesterday which it says caused pupils, parents and school staff unnecessary distress.
UNISON had been calling for a delay in the return to schools in the New Year since well before Christmas in both regular meetings and urgent correspondence with Welsh government.
UNISON Wales schools lead officer, Rosie Lewis said:
“This is a public health emergency and education should move online at least until February except for vulnerable children and those of key workers. We need an all-Wales approach rather than leaving decisions to local authorities.
“Welsh government must get this right instead of leaving parents, staff and whole communities confused and at risk.
“They need absolute assurance they are going to be safe when schools reopen. That includes prioritising all school staff for vaccinations. No school staff member should have to work where they face serious and imminent danger.
“Leaving the announcement to close schools so late was very disappointing and this has led to disruption for school staff, families and pupils. Welsh government has been aware of the concerns of school support staff and exactly how they want schools to be safe environments for some time because UNISON has been raising this with the Minister for weeks.
“We know reopening schools in February significantly impacts on parents and Welsh government should communicate to employers that workers are eligible for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme in these circumstances, so they could either be partially or fully furloughed if they are unable to work.”
Alastair Gittins, UNISON Cymru Wales press officer on 07816 53 83 97