Analysis

Union demands Johnson explain plan to force schools to stay OPEN – even if heads think need to close

Letter from teaching union heads challenges Tory plan to keep kids in school when large gatherings being abandoned and Parliament cancelling events to protect MPs

As the World Health Organisation (WHO) criticises countries that are not taking all possible steps to limit the spread of the deadly COVID-19 coronavirus, Boris Johnson is considering ’emergency’ laws to force schools to stay open even if heads and teachers believe they should close.

National Education Union heads have written to Johnson asking him to provide the scientific justification he claims to have for his decision – which flies in the face of WHO advice and the actions of neighbouring countries:

Dear Prime Minister,

Every day we are getting increasing numbers of questions from teachers and support staff asking why the Westminster Government isn’t following the pattern of other countries in calling for periods of school closure.

Those questions are increasingly asking why schools aren’t closing if mass gatherings are to be suspended.

We all want to limit and delay the spread of the corona virus and we do think medical advice and expert scientific advice is important in this regard.

But it is clear that such advice can have uncertainties; and that it could be crafted to target a variety of measures.

We now see that you may take legal powers to force schools to remain open even when heads and teachers think there is good reason to close.

In those circumstances we, as the leaders of the largest education union, believe that it is right for us to ask you for fuller disclosure of the models you have looked at, and to understand which measures you are targeting.

We do not have the medical expertise to know what the transmissibility is between children and staff in close quarters in classrooms – but your scientists will have made assumptions about that, together with some view of the certainty of those figures.

It is very important that we understand what the increased rate of infection is for staff and parents if school remain open, including obviously for those with underlying health conditions themselves, or for those they care for.

We know you’ve expressed concerns about children not in school being cared for by vulnerable elderly grandparents, or by NHS staff who would then not be available for work. However we would suggest that parents and schools would be able to work together to find solutions to that – and we would like to know if you have any modelling of such societal responses.

Most of all we think that education staff deserve to have access to modelling of the projected spread of the virus and the projected number of fatalities in a wide variety of scenarios including in scenarios where schools are closed for different periods of time.

Teachers and other staff would work to help a broader societal response to mitigate the effects of the virus. We know this is especially important in a country where public services and the NHS in particular have been run down for so long.

However it is vital that you share all of the potential models you have with us if that societal response is to be as strong as possible.

Mary Bousted, Kevin Courtney
Joint General Secretaries
National Education Union

The Tories have claimed that they are concerned about children out of school being looked after by vulnerable grandparents – but many grandparents share childcare responsibilities anyway while parents are at work. Keeping children in school clearly increases the risk that they will become infected and pass the virus onto elderly relatives.

Boris Johnson continues to recklessly ignore WHO advice – and has admitted his plan is for at least 60% of the UK population to catch COVID-19 in the pursuit of a ‘herd immunity’ that the WHO says is unlikely to work anyway.

Given mortality rates in other countries with high infection numbers, that pursuit would mean the loss of millions of lives – and independent health experts say that even if the idea worked, the number of people suffering infection would need to be 90% or more to be effective.

And one of the world’s leading experts says that closing schools is among the most effective measures for breaking the epidemic or limiting its spread, precisely because it inhibits transmission from children to adults.

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13 comments

  1. It’s not a policy choice to let the virus run wild in the UK, it’s the only option they have as the NHS is unable to cope after TEN YEARS of deliberate neglect.

  2. I suspect the government and advisors are aware of the impact of school closures on nursing and social care – both heavily feminised occupations, and how really easy it would be for grandparents or dads to step in the breach (in two partner households, at least).

    1. I suspect the Government doesn’t have a clue what it’s going to do. It’s strange we are left to GUESS what their policy is!

  3. Post BBC ‘Any Questions’ words of complete reassurance that the elites have everything under control………we move into ‘Delay Mode’…….delaying the truth. Moving from Herd Immunity into Herd Culling by doing nothing as it’s a ‘natural’ process?

    Why cancel anything & why close schools if we need to infect at least 90% population? Who decides? Who chooses who will/should be infected & what will be the effect on the most vulnerable? Delaying a process of infection to allow NHS to cope? Tells you all you need to know about the capacity of NHS.

  4. Will be effective *only* if 90% of world population will be exposed. While all other countries are fighting hard to contain the virus until a vaccination will be found and to allow their health system to help as many as possible, this idiot and his neo-nazis helpers are doing their best to undermine those efforts by turning the UK into hot spot which will inflame all other countries population.

  5. The problem isn’t so much conspiracy – but rather incompetence based on the fashionista notion of ‘Nudge’ Theory – a case of over-dependence on partial and imperfect science.

    The Union is taking absolutely the right course in challenging the ‘government’ of spivs to publish the science behind the reasoning.

    Precipitate closure of schools isn’t necessarily a good idea – but the situation is changing rapidly, and the figures suggest that this coming week may be the tipping point as the exponential growth of cases rapidly increases.

    I’ve been pre-occupied over the last couple of days with making decisions about personal responses within the family and with decisions over wider social/recreational group activities. It isn’t easy to get the timing right, given the changing situation and the fact that confirmed figures of infection will be only a percentage of the actuality – but the trend is clear, and I reckon that this is a key period.

    The ‘herd immunity’ concept of mitigation is clearly bollocks, and what is needed is an appropriate actual and symbolic response. Clearly, school closures are part of any strategy, and any head teacher should feel free to duck the too-common compliance mentality, take responsibility and tell the government to f. off.

  6. Just an update after a long conversation with a Public Health professional, very experienced in data analysis.

    His view is that *not* closing schools *at the present time* is indeed a rational course of action in consideration of the countervailing factors. It’s not all Mr Toad’s whim.

    His take on the most recently available data is also that whilst the infectivity of the virus is higher than seasonal ‘flu, the severity is not particularly so. Particular care is – as said – needed if you are in the more vulnerable sections of the population.

    Hand hygeine is, indeed, by far the most important and effective counter – the main spread is via contamination of hard surfaces. Face masks are a waste of time and space except in specific circumstances.

    Delaying the peak is a good idea because of the effect of higher temperatures on the virus. Currently that peak *may* be earlier than June.

    It’s all about probabilities – not certainties. No – you can’t relax – but you don’t need to panic.

    1. Great stuff. Have you applied for a job spinning for Dominic? Or are you just auditioning? Or already working for them a friend suggests?

  7. Close ALL the schools and give BOTH parents leave to stay home and look after them.
    I suspect grandparents would prefer their descendants safe in quarantine anyway, rather than have all three generations at risk from the middle generation working and grandparents childminding.

    This is a time for single and childless paid volunteers to fill in and keep the country fed and warmed for the duration.
    I wouldn’t reject conscription but I’d try high pay – ‘danger money’ – first.
    Close all non-essential businesses and ban all non-essential gatherings.

    Guarantee long term recovery loans at 1% interest NOW to businesses and individuals that get into difficulty – so nobody has to break quarantine to survive – and FORCE those customers’ banks to comply or go to jail – it’s the least the banks owe us for paying their gambling debts.
    Empty the 1%’s tax havens to pay for defaulters this time.

    1. My fear David is that we’ll get a lot of ‘little Hitlers’ trying to order people around about tiny details of THE REGULATIONS. There is a folk memory of that BS and I’d be surprised if it would get through now.

      1. Wot – little Hitlers like wot we don’t have now?
        Wot – regulations like wot we don’t have now?

        Doesn’t every regulation fit that description?

        I KNOW you don’t want another ten years of austerity mandated by King Donnie the First and the Liege Lord Boris 🙂

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