Coronavirus: ‘Rising sense of panic’ in schools over pandemic, union warns

A teachers’ union has hit out at the government over the coronavirus pandemic, warning that a lack of advice is creating “chaos and confusion” for schools.

The NASUWT, which represents teachers and headteachers, said there is a “rising sense” of panic in the education sector over COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

It has called for a definitive decision on how to protect staff and pupils.

On Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a raft of unprecedented measures to try and control the spread of the virus.

But school closures were not among them.

The government has not ruled out closing schools at a later stage, but has said it is not the right measure to take at this moment in time.

On Monday, guidance was issued by Public Health England to schools and other education settings.

It said that pupils who are continuously coughing or have a fever should be sent home with suspected coronavirus.

According to the government, school closures will not be necessary in most cases.

But its guidance states that this will be a local decision, taking into consideration factors like the size of the educational establishment and the risk of further spread of COVID-19.

Despite this, the NASUWT has criticised Mr Johnson for failing to give “clear and definitive directions” to schools.

Acting general secretary Chris Keates said: “All of the announcements continue to be couched as guidance or advice, which is simply serving to increase anxiety and uncertainty.

“The NASUWT has to date been advising our members in the context of the advice issued by governments and administrations and public health bodies across the UK.

“However, the lack of clear information with regard to the steps to protect teachers, headteachers and other staff working in schools in the context of commentators constantly referring to the threats posed by children carrying COVID-19 is causing chaos and confusion and placing intolerable pressure on all staff in schools and their families.”

It added: “The NASUWT has consistently raised a series of concerns with ministers since this national crisis began to unfold and whilst we have sought not to second-guess the science and medical advice and worked to support members in the increasingly difficult situation, the lack of specific information for schools understandably has created a rising sense of panic.”

The union said schools are struggling with diminishing staff levels – and warned that changes to working conditions have the potential to compromise the health and safety of both staff and pupils.

“This situation cannot be allowed to continue,” Ms Keates said.

“The UK government, working with governments and administrations across the UK, must now make a definitive decision about the steps being taken to protect the school workforce and the closure of schools.”

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