Rushed re-opening of schools “risks exposing children” says Coventry MP

The MP raised concerns after the Department for Education’s chief scientific advisor revealed that he had made no assessment of how schools could implement coronavirus guidance.

Zarah Sultana, the Labour MP for Coventry South, joined nearly 200 Coventry teachers and parents on a National Education Union (NEU) Zoom call this week.

The meeting was called in light of the Government’s proposals to reopen schools for some pupils from 1 June, with primary schools will beginning to welcome back children in nursery, Reception, year 1 and year 6, alongside priority groups.

While secondary schools, sixth form and further education colleges are expected to offer some face-to-face support for year 10 and year 12 students who are due to take key exams next year, alongside the full-time provision they are offering to priority groups already.

There are concerns from some parents, teachers and MPs that the proposed date is unsafe, with the NEU describing it as “reckless” and 85% of their members opposing the move.

The NEU, supported by Ms Sultana, are calling for schools to only reopen when it is safe and have laid out 5 tests that need to be met before schools reopen.

The Department for Education (DfE) has explained that by returning pupils gradually, schools can initially reduce the number of young people in classrooms compared to usual and put protective measures in place to reduce risks.

“Alongside good hygiene and cleaning, one of the main protective measures we can take to reduce transmission is to have small group and class sizes”, said a DfE spokesperson.

However, Ms Sultana raised concerns when in reply to her questions at a recent Science and Technology Select Committee session, the Department for Education’s chief scientific advisor revealed that the department had made no assessment of how schools could implement the Government’s guidance.

The Coventry NEU meeting was addressed by Ms Sultana Amanda Martin (the NEU President), a local parent and a GP.

Speaking after the meeting, Ms Sultana said: “I want schools to reopen, but rushed action risks exposing children, teachers and the wider community to this terrible virus. The Government has failed to provide the evidence showing their proposals are safe and that’s why parents and teachers don’t have confidence in the proposed June 1 date.

“The safety of our children, teachers and community must be the priority and that’s why I fully support the NEU’s 5 tests on reopening schools.”

Chris Denson, Join Secretary of Coventry NEU, said: “Every teacher wants to be back with their students as soon as we can, but we need answers and clarity from the Government which we are just not getting. We have to be clear that it is safe for our pupils, their families and our communities.