Echoing Sheffield’s National Education Union (NEU), which last week urged the Government to ‘act decisively’ to ensure proper ventilation in schools, the Rotherham chapter expressed its ‘grave concerns’ over the lack of Government action to keep pupils and staff safe.
According to the union, all schools in Rotherham have been affected by the Omicron variant ‘in some form or another’ over the last few weeks, and the full extent of the impact this will have had on pupil and staff wellbeing has yet to be fully appreciated or understood.
In a statement, the union said: “Schools are at a breaking point. The ease with which the new variant spreads means that high numbers of staff and pupils are currently not at school, and those staff who are working flat out to cope.
“Added to this is the burden that schools have been identified as a major transmission vector for spreading the virus into the community, which will have a far greater impact beyond the gates of each and every school and increase the risk of wider lockdown measures.
“And all this whilst refusing to accept the recommended pay award to fairly pay those staff who are putting their health on the line day in and day out.”
‘We are left to fend for ourselves’
The union said much of this could have been prevented had the Government been prepared to act on the advice of scientists and education unions from the start.
It said: “Nationally, we have been calling for CO2 monitors and effective air filtration systems for every classroom for over 12 months. The estimated cost of providing these systems in the 330,000 classrooms in England is £140 million, half the cost of Boris Johnson’s pet project, the new Royal Yacht.
“In Germany, all schools and public buildings have received upgraded air purifiers and air conditioning systems since October 2020. Over 100,000 air purifiers have been distributed in New York City schools. Quite simply, our education system has been left to fend for itself, and this is simply not fair – not fair for the staff, the pupils, and the wider communities we serve.
“The Government has long acknowledged the importance of air flow in the mitigation of Covid transmission, urging all of us to keep our homes, schools, and offices well ventilated. But in the throes of winter, this comes with its own problems that ventilation and filtration systems would easily solve.
“So we have to ask the question: at what point will charges of criminal neglect be levelled at this Government who have failed to put in place sensible, cost-effective, practical measures that would keep staff and pupils safe and minimise disruption to the delivery of education and care that all our education staff and young people in Rotherham deserve?”
It was previously reported that nationally almost one in 20 members of teaching staff were absent due to Covid last Thursday.