UNISON Warrington Local Government branch, which represents teaching assistants and other school support staff including cleaners and caterers, has warned the local authority against pressing ahead with opening schools in early June.
Warrington Borough Council has conceded that it is unsafe to re-open local schools on 1 June but still plans to re-open them just a week later.
The local union branch has raised health and safety concerns on behalf of staff, but they have fallen on deaf ears. UNISON also remains concerned that the proposed use of teaching assistants to plug teaching staff gaps will have adverse impacts on pupils and staff alike.
The trade union also claims that the ambitious target to re-open schools in just over two weeks is unrealistic, given that half-term falls in the middle of the period of preparation for an increase in pupil numbers. Four school unions including UNISON are signed up to a Coronavirus crisis workplace checklist, which they believe provides a roadmap for re-opening schools safely.
UNISON Warrington LG branch secretary Jason Horan said: “Local school staff are dismayed that the council plans to re-open schools in early June without comprehensive safety measure being put in place.
“School staff safety is paramount. UNISON requested an increased cleaning function across all schools to avoid the spread of the virus- yet we were informed that instead, doors can be propped open to minimise touch points, reducing the necessity for proper cleaning.
“Until measures are put into place to keep staff, parents and children safe- we will not be able to support the re-opening of Warrington schools. We are nowhere near a situation where it would be responsible to increase pupil numbers in Warrington.”
Responding to new Department for Education (DfE) guidance on the reopening of primary schools and nurseries, UNISON head of education Jon Richards said:
“Safety for staff and pupils has to be the number one priority. Yet the DfE guidance has a number of holes, and the government has neither met unions' safety tests nor its own. That's why the beginning of June date for reopening is unrealistic.
“The guidance encourages schools to use support staff to fill gaps if teachers aren’t there. While more senior teaching assistants can do this, there’s a danger that others could be exploited.
“Questions remain around the capacity for schools to be able to fully test, trace and isolate children and school staff.
“Many support staff come from backgrounds that put them at greater risk if they’re infected with Covid-19. Workers including teaching assistants, cleaners and school meals staff mustn’t be put in danger just because the government is in a hurry to get schools running again.”
Several other North West councils including Liverpool, Wirral and Bury have refused to open schools in early June until it is safe to do so.