Almost half of teachers are worried that Covid security measures in their schools are inadequate, according to a poll, prompting demands for new risk assessments to be carried out as a second lockdown gets under way in England.
Schools have been told to remain open to all pupils during the national restrictions, but the NASUWT teaching union says more “robust action” is needed to prevent the further spread of Covid-19 in schools and colleges.
The NASUWT claims fewer than one in five education settings have been contacted as part of Health and Safety Executive (HSE) spot checks and only 200 schools have been visited by the HSE since the start of September.
The union is concerned that some employers are becoming complacent in their approach to ensuring staff safety, and it has said it will take action where employers fail to meet their legal obligations for the health and safety of staff.
According to a poll of almost 7,500 NASUWT members, a third of teachers (34%) said the control measures in their school were adequate, compared with 46% who said they were not. More than one in three (36%) said their schools had not updated or reviewed their Covid-19 risk assessments since the start of the autumn term.
More than a quarter of teachers polled (27%) said appropriate measures had not been put in place to ensure adequate ventilation in classrooms, which is seen as an important safety precaution.
The NASUWT general secretary, Dr Patrick Roach, said: “In light of the widespread evidence of increased Covid-19 transmission levels in schools and colleges, employers have a duty to review and update regularly their Covid-19 risk assessments and control measures. The government must take tough action against those school and college employers that breach health and safety requirements or guidelines.”
The National Education Union (NEU), the UK’s largest education union, reacted with fury after the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, accused its leaders of failing to put the education of children first by calling for schools to close during lockdown.As schools in England opened on the first day of the new restrictions on Thursday, Williamson wrote a column in the Telegraph accusing the NEU of putting pupils’ progress in jeopardy.
The NEU has been campaigning for schools and colleges to be included in the national lockdown in England amid evidence of a fiftyfold increase in Covid infections in secondary schools since September.
Williamson accused the NEU leadership of being content to put children’s progress on hold. “When the risks are being managed, when the benefits of being in school are so clear, this seems to be an isolated position that doesn’t put the best interests of pupils first,” he wrote.
In response, Mary Bousted, the NEU’s joint general secretary, said: “What we see time and time again from Gavin Williamson is poor propaganda unmatched by the decisive action that is needed to support pupils’ continuing access to education.”