Why education chiefs in Sheffield should postpone the re-opening of schools - letter

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John Ross, the president of the Sheffield branch of the National Education Union, is calling on Sheffield Council to postpone the re-opening of schools in the city – do you agree?

Cabinet minister Michael Gove has said that ‘if you really care about children, you’ll want them to be in schools’.

Yes Mr Gove, we do want children back in schools; every teacher would love to return to their classroom to teach again.

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However, the speed with which the government is rushing towards opening schools to more children is unmanageable, unsafe and chaotic.

John Ross, the president of the Sheffield branch of the National Education Union, is calling on Sheffield Council to postpone the re-opening of schools in the city.John Ross, the president of the Sheffield branch of the National Education Union, is calling on Sheffield Council to postpone the re-opening of schools in the city.
John Ross, the president of the Sheffield branch of the National Education Union, is calling on Sheffield Council to postpone the re-opening of schools in the city. | JPIMedia

We have two weeks to apply the government guidance, while at the same time being open to key worker children, providing pastoral support and remote learning for all.

A carefully considered approach, while maintaining current educational provision, is what is needed to build public confidence that schools will be safe.

The choice of age groups to return is difficult to justify.

Social distancing for children aged three, four and five is impossible, yet these are the groups we are asked to prioritise, without regard for personal protection and secure scientific evidence of transmission.

This fills staff and parents with dread.

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Furthermore, the instruction that staff do not need personal protective equipment unless dealing with personal care is contrary to general guidance in the workplace.

School leaders and staff in Sheffield have shown flexibility and resilience as well a passion to ensure the welfare of all our families, from creating a remote school, to making welfare calls, delivering meals, and even making PPE equipment.

We want to build the confidence that our children, parents, and communities can return to school safely.

That is why we are asking the government to take a step back.

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The National Education Union has published five tests, supported by the British Medical Association that we want the government to prove they will meet so we can open schools more widely.

I believe Liverpool, Hartlepool, and Greater Manchester councils have acted responsibly to ensure the safety of their communities, in postponing the reopening of schools for more children under the government’s current guidance. We call on Sheffield Council to follow their lead and postpone the opening of schools.

John Ross

Sheffield NEU president