North West schools unsafe for staff and students as 'R' rate rises above 1

UNISON, which represents teaching assistants and other school support staff including cleaners and caterers, has warned councils in the North West that local schools are not yet safe for students or staff, despite many schools expanding pupil numbers today (Monday).

Analysis released on Friday by Public Health England and Cambridge University estimated the North West’s ‘R’ number, which represents the speed of the disease’s spread, to be just over the critical 1 threshold-  the highest rate in the country. The number of reported hospital admissions for coronavirus in Greater Manchester is now higher than at any point since late April, having risen for the second week in a row.

UNISON is now extremely concerned that today’s return to schools in many areas of the region will put both staff and pupils at risk. UNISON has written to all North West councils, MPs and regional schools commissioners to express its concern and call for all schools in the region to delay expanding pupil numbers until the 'R' rate comes down.

Many schools in the region have already paused their plans for wider opening following the reported rise in the 'R' rate. UNISON believes that this is the right thing for schools to do and says that health and safety of pupils and staff must come first.

Over the weekend, Warrington Borough Council delayed the reopening of local primary schools by a week after sustained pressure from the local UNISON branch. Several other North West councils have encouraged schools to remain closed- these include Blackburn, Bury, Halton, Liverpool, Wirral and Tameside. Tameside schools are now being advised to delay wider reopening until at least 22 June after the disturbing rise in the regional rate of virus transmission.

In many other areas of the region, schools have increased pupil numbers and an outbreak of coronavirus amongst staff has already reported in a Bolton school.

In areas where schools have reopened today, UNISON has encouraged concerned members to write to their headteacher and explain that they will be unable to attend work at school until safety measures can be put into place to protect staff and pupils.

UNISON North West Schools Organiser Keith Bradley said: “We are incredibly concerned that many North West councils are allowing schools to expand pupil numbers in the light of the rising ‘R’ rate.

“School staff are understandably anxious, and many parents do not want to send their children back in the current climate. Several councils have shown leadership by prioritising the health and wellbeing of local people, rather than scrambling to meet arbitrary Government deadlines. We need all other North West local authorities to follow suit.”

Join UNISON Get involved in UNISON