COVID-19 | SEA Policy Statements on Reopening Schools and Supply Staff

  1. Schools only to fully reopen when safe

Since the government partially shut school buildings on March 20th, schools across the country have worked hard to continue providing an education for students via distance learning, support vulnerable students and provide a safe place for the children of key workers. Some school buildings were closed but education hasn’t stopped. Returning to school is vital for young people – especially those from less advantaged backgrounds – but it is imperative that this is safe, carefully planned, and that students return to an appropriate, supportive curriculum to help them respond to the strange circumstances they have been in.

Teachers, support staff, pupils and their families must not be used as an experiment and it would be reckless for any Government to ignore the independent scientific advice, which is at best uncertain, and thereby endanger lives. The British Medical Association has stated that opening schools at the moment would risk a second spike and increase the spread of this virus in a dangerous fashion.

The SEA are clear that school buildings cannot fully reopen until the following has been met:
1. Much lower numbers of Covid-19 cases (with a sustained downward trend).
2. A national plan for social distancing, including clear parameters and appropriate PPE in schools.
3. Comprehensive access to regular testing for students and staff to ensure that schools do not become spreading spots for Covid-19.
4. Protocols put in place to test whole schools or colleges when cases occur and to strictly isolate cases.
5. Protection for vulnerable students and staff, and those who live with vulnerable people. This should include the ability of staff to work from home to fulfil their professional duties as far as possible, and provision for students with vulnerable home situations to learn remotely.

We call on the UK Government to establish an Education Task Force comprised of education Trade Unions, epidemiologists, and other stakeholders; they should be tasked with producing a short, medium and long term plan for reopening schools during the continued threat of Covid-19, including the criteria that will be used for making decisions, and to be widely shared as soon as possible.

We encourage Local Authorities and Academy Trusts to follow the example of LAs such as Liverpool, Haringey, North of Tyne, Hartlepool, and Brighton – and devolved governments in Wales, Scotland, and NI – in making it clear that they will not reopen schools until it is safe.

2. Supply Teachers

Deregulation of education in England and Wales was begun by the 1988 Education Reform Act (ERA).  Schools no longer just receive central services from Local Authorities.  Schools can now buy services from whoever they please. One of the education motions passed at the 2019 LP conference called on the LP to make Local Authority Education Committees “default providers of services” to schools.
The Coronavirus pandemic has exposed the necessity for government to work with and be led by experts. Nowhere is this truer than in education where teachers, including supply teachers, and their unions should advance the professional status of their members as their biggest asset.

Over the last years Labour has recognised the problems that outsourcing of our public services has caused and has started to develop policies which if they had been elected would have begun to address this nationally. One such service now is the supply staff service which is now mainly delivered by agencies that make large profits from depressing the pay and conditions of staff and has caused deterioration in the service that can be provided. Labour promised in the 2019 manifesto to set up “A new teacher supply service [which] will tackle the waste of funds going to private supply teacher agencies”.

Even though Labour does not have power nationally there are many labour controlled councils and even where Labour are not in control we have councillors who can try to influence policy for the better.

We call upon Labour councils to establish or where they already exist maintain and upgrade local supply pools, making them efficient and attractive to both school leaders and supply staff.  We also call upon all Labour councillors to inform themselves about the desirability of bringing this service in house and press councils to do so.

In Solidarity

James (General Secretary)

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