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Open letter to Gavin Williamson

Join GMB call to Make Schools Safe & sign our open letter to Secretary of State for Education

GMB has been demanding the Government Make ALL Schools Safe in the lock-down. Schools are still open for key workers’ children, and children classified as vulnerable.

The list of eligible children has been expanded and there are more pupils in school than during the first lockdown.

Some schools (including many special schools) are at or near full attendance. Many pupil bubbles have grown in size and cannot be safely sustained.

We need a consistent approach between schools and early years’ education, which has been left out the current lockdown arrangements and remain fully open.

We need Government to take their responsibility to children and their school support staff seriously

  • More funding is required
  • Safe classroom spaces need to be created
  • Safe ventilation systems need to be installed
  • More equipment needs to be provided to enable proper remote learning
  • Re-establish the School Support Staff Negotiating Body to recognise the essential contribution that key workers make across schools.

The Chancellor recently found £4.7 billion to support businesses, and billions more have been spent on a failed track and trace system – but where is the funding for schools?

Without investment, schools will continue to be a key source of community transmission. Almost two-thirds of school workers are in support staff roles and they need to be treated equally and fairly.

Don't stand by. Stand up for your local school support staff. Add your name to our open letter

Dear Secretary of State,

We are writing to you as parents, carers, family members of pupils, and school staff. This is a message of solidarity with everyone who works in schools.

The start of the spring term has been a time of great confusion. First we were told that schools were safe. Hours later Ministers said that schools must be closed. The Government has not explained why early years education remains fully open. Official advice has been confused and contradictory.

The reality is that schools have not shut. They are still open for key workers’ children, and children classified as vulnerable. The list of eligible children has been expanded and there are more pupils in school than during the first lockdown. Some schools (including many special schools) are at or near full attendance. Many pupil bubbles have grown in size and cannot be safely sustained. We need a consistent approach between schools and early years education, which has been left out the current lockdown arrangements and remain fully open.

The proper preparations were not made. The funding has not been made available. PPE is still often inappropriate, or absent. Too many reports of dangerous working environments are made every day. Schools are still viral vectors. School workers are overstretched and anxious for the safety of pupils and themselves.

More funding is required. Safe classroom spaces need to be created. Safe ventilation systems need to be installed. More devices (including adapted devices for some SEND learners) need to be provided to enable proper remote learning. The Chancellor recently found £4.7 billion to support businesses, and billions more have been spent on a failed track and trace system – but where is the funding for schools? Without investment, schools will continue to be a key source of community transmission.

We are also concerned that school support staff are being forgotten. Almost two-thirds of school workers are in support staff roles. Schools could not function without caterers, cleaners, caretakers, teaching assistants, technicians, business managers, mid-day and cover supervisors, and all other support staff roles.

Yet these workers are too often unappreciated and unrecognised. Support staff are dedicated professionals who deserve proper career structures and better pay – the average earnings for teaching assistants was just £13,000 in 2020. And support staff should be higher on the Government’s list of priorities during coronavirus, too.

In the media, in Ministerial statements, and in your Department’s internal discussions, support staff have all too often been ignored. A two-tier system is not acceptable. We call on you to give equal priority to support staff and teachers, and to recognise the essential and unrewarded contribution made by support staff to learning during the pandemic.

Unlike teachers, many support staff jobs are not being done remotely. Members of the GMB union – which represents support staff – regularly supervise small groups, and they are often asked to cover lessons. They administer medication, food, personal hygiene care, and they can be called upon to perform restraints. The nature of the roles raises their occupational exposure, and consequently their risk of contracting and dying from this terrible disease.

All school workers must receive occupational priority for the vaccine rollout. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has said that occupational vaccination is a matter of policy for Ministers to decide. We urge you to ensure that support staff and teachers receive equal priority for vaccination.

No-one should go to work in fear of exposure to a deadly disease, or the fear of taking the virus home. To make schools safe we urge you to:

  • Set clear guidance on bubble size and review the classifications of pupils who are expected to attend school. Introduce sensible local flexibilities so more children who can be safely educated at home. Make funding available to hire more staff to enable rota systems to be put in place.
  • Make funding available to provide proper PPE, make essential adaptations in schools, and provide the right equipment so more children can be safely taught remotely.
  • Make support staff a priority occupational group for vaccination on an equal basis to teachers.
  • Engage with unions and employers to establish proper career and pay structures for support staff. This should be done through re-establishing the School Support Staff Negotiating Body to recognise the essential contribution that key workers in schools have made since day one of the pandemic.
  • Press for a dramatic increase in Statutory Sick Pay and childcare support in your discussions with other Departments, in order to reduce the pressure on parents to unsafely attend work when they should be in isolation.

We, the undersigned, call on you to take action.

Yours sincerely

[SIGNATORIES]

Sign now!

We are writing to you as parents, carers, family members of pupils, and school staff. This is a message of solidarity with everyone who works in schools.

The start of the spring term has been a time of great confusion. First we were told that schools were safe. Hours later Ministers said that schools must be closed. The Government has not explained why early years education remains fully open. Official advice has been confused and contradictory.

The reality is that schools have not shut. They are still open for key workers’ children, and children classified as vulnerable. The list of eligible children has been expanded and there are more pupils in school than during the first lockdown. Some schools (including many special schools) are at or near full attendance. Many pupil bubbles have grown in size and cannot be safely sustained. We need a consistent approach between schools and early years education, which has been left out the current lockdown arrangements and remain fully open.

The proper preparations were not made. The funding has not been made available. PPE is still often inappropriate, or absent. Too many reports of dangerous working environments are made every day. Schools are still viral vectors. School workers are overstretched and anxious for the safety of pupils and themselves.

More funding is required. Safe classroom spaces need to be created. Safe ventilation systems need to be installed. More devices (including adapted devices for some SEND learners) need to be provided to enable proper remote learning. The Chancellor recently found £4.7 billion to support businesses, and billions more have been spent on a failed track and trace system – but where is the funding for schools? Without investment, schools will continue to be a key source of community transmission.

We are also concerned that school support staff are being forgotten. Almost two-thirds of school workers are in support staff roles. Schools could not function without caterers, cleaners, caretakers, teaching assistants, technicians, business managers, mid-day and cover supervisors, and all other support staff roles.

Yet these workers are too often unappreciated and unrecognised. Support staff are dedicated professionals who deserve proper career structures and better pay – the average earnings for teaching assistants was just £13,000 in 2020. And support staff should be higher on the Government’s list of priorities during coronavirus, too.

In the media, in Ministerial statements, and in your Department’s internal discussions, support staff have all too often been ignored. A two-tier system is not acceptable. We call on you to give equal priority to support staff and teachers, and to recognise the essential and unrewarded contribution made by support staff to learning during the pandemic.

Unlike teachers, many support staff jobs are not being done remotely. Members of the GMB union – which represents support staff – regularly supervise small groups, and they are often asked to cover lessons. They administer medication, food, personal hygiene care, and they can be called upon to perform restraints. The nature of the roles raises their occupational exposure, and consequently their risk of contracting and dying from this terrible disease.

All school workers must receive occupational priority for the vaccine rollout. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has said that occupational vaccination is a matter of policy for Ministers to decide. We urge you to ensure that support staff and teachers receive equal priority for vaccination.

No-one should go to work in fear of exposure to a deadly disease, or the fear of taking the virus home. To make schools safe we urge you to:

  • Set clear guidance on bubble size and review the classifications of pupils who are expected to attend school. Introduce sensible local flexibilities so more children who can be safely educated at home. Make funding available to hire more staff to enable rota systems to be put in place.
  • Make funding available to provide proper PPE, make essential adaptations in schools, and provide the right equipment so more children can be safely taught remotely.
  • Make support staff a priority occupational group for vaccination on an equal basis to teachers.
  • Engage with unions and employers to establish proper career and pay structures for support staff. This should be done through re-establishing the School Support Staff Negotiating Body to recognise the essential contribution that key workers in schools have made since day one of the pandemic.
  • Press for a dramatic increase in Statutory Sick Pay and childcare support in your discussions with other Departments, in order to reduce the pressure on parents to unsafely attend work when they should be in isolation.

We, the undersigned, call on you to take action.

Yours sincerely

Sign now!

Sign our open letter to Secretary of State for Education

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