Action day on social media calls on government to protect pupils from Covid-19 so schools are able to stay open
Greens are backing a campaign from trade unions Unison, GMB, Unite and NASUWT the Teacher’s Union calling on the Conservative government to keep pupils safe, to keep them in school.
A day of action for the ‘Protect Pupils, Protect Education’ campaign will take place on 9th December, focusing on action needed to stop potential school closures and avert the disruption to education that typified the early pandemic response.
Additional measures to improve ventilation and minimise infection in schools could help stop further outbreaks. However the government has so far failed to respond on this, with the current requirements focused mainly on mask wearing in corridors and other communal spaces. Covid-19 cases continue to rise in schools, with concerns raised that school outbreaks increase the likelihood of onward transmission to other family members and households.
Green councillors have repeatedly campaigned on the issue of stronger measures in schools. Councillor Sarah Nield has again written to ministers, asking for greater support and funding for the installation of ventilators and air purifiers that modelling shows can significantly reduce the chance of Covid-19 spreading in classrooms. To date, government has undertaken a small trial of air purifiers in 30 schools in Bradford, but failed to roll out this measure nationally. This stands in contrast to international comparators such as the city of New York, where all school classrooms were provided with two air purifiers by the state department of education, and in some European countries, where stronger measures are already in place.
A response from government to the lobbying from the Greens has only confirmed that no plans are in place to improve ventilation or measures in schools, with the Secretary of State for Education, Nadhim Zahawi MP, replying to Cllr Nield that “it is expected that…existing ventilation is sufficient…[and] the case for additional support for settings to maintain good ventilation will be kept under review.”
Backing the union campaign, councillors say further pressure is vital, as school-aged children currently have the highest Covid-19 rate of any age group, with education staff also more likely to test positive for Covid than the general population.
Greens have praised the response of local schools who have continued to work collaboratively to help bring down the pandemic despite huge workloads and extreme pressures.
Councillor Sarah Nield, member of children, young people and skills committee on Brighton & Hove city council, commented:
“I share the outrage of trade unions that in the settings with some of the highest Covid numbers – our schools – that these are still the places where the fewest government measures are in place to prevent transmission. If we are to stand any chance of keeping pupils in school, to protect their education and avoid the need for school closures, action is essential to help prevent the spread of Covid in our classrooms. This should be a priority of government.
“Scientists are clear on how the virus spreads – it is airborne – and so we have the knowledge to fight it in schools. After years of cuts to school budgets, and the horrendous impact of Covid on children’s education, their families and school staff, schools need to be given the funding to upgrade their ventilation and to filter their air. Being told by the government to open the windows all year round is not a real or sustainable solution, particularly in the depths of winter.
“We share the challenge to government of the Protect Pupils, Protect Education campaign as it’s essential ministers do all they can to prevent avoidable disruption to education. There are steps that can still be taken – and that we will continue to lobby ministers about. Covid-19 case numbers are once again rising in Brighton and Hove, and now we also have the uncertainties of a new Covid variant to contend with. We urge everyone to add their voice to this vital campaign.”