Union calls for 'immediate' schools closure

A UNION is calling for an immediate return to home-learning after claiming that Covid ventilation measures had left classrooms so cold teachers were taking lessons ‘in hats and gloves’ and pupils were being told to ‘bring blankets to school’.

Marina Mauger. Picture:DAVID FERGUSON. (30008338)
Marina Mauger. Picture:DAVID FERGUSON. (30008338)

The NASUWT says the guidance, which recommends that windows and doors should be left open, was forcing staff and students to ‘soldier on’ in ‘increasingly untenable circumstances’.

And it reiterated its calls for the government to make mask-wearing in schools compulsory and to implement greater safety precautions after it emerged that half of eligible students had not taken the optional Covid-19 test before schools reopened this week.

A total of 1,510 pupils from Years 11, 12 and 13 had tests, according to data released by the Education Department. As there are approximately 1,000 students in each of these year groups, this indicates a take-up rate of roughly 50%.

The response from teenagers was criticised by a union official, and prompted the call for compulsory mask-wearing and a move towards remote learning.

News about the testing programme came as deputy medical officer of health Dr Ivan Muscat warned that the impact of Covid vaccines would not be felt in the community for ‘some months’ and that Islanders must continue to follow public-health guidance while the jabs are being rolled out.

More than 1,900 staff were tested before term started this week, with 1,351 teachers and 561 other school employees taking part.

An exact percentage figure was not available, but the proportion of staff undergoing tests is believed to be far higher than that of students.

When students returned to the classroom on Monday, attendance figures of 93.6% for primary schools and 83% for secondary schools were reported.

Education Department figures showed that the 6.4% of absent primary school pupils comprised authorised absence (2%), unauthorised absence (1.9%) and Covid-19 absence (2.5%).

In secondary schools, where 17% of pupils were absent on Monday, the split was made up of authorised absence (3%), unauthorised absence (4.1%) and Covid-19 absence (4.7%). A further 5.2% of pupils were absent for reasons listed as ‘non-recorded’.

Education union, the NASUWT, has called for a switch to remote learning and criticised the conditions in schools, with many teachers and pupils wearing outdoor clothing to combat cold temperatures caused by the need to open windows and doors in classrooms for ventilation.

‘Where else would you go to work and be expected to wear a coat, hat and gloves and teach kids who have brought blankets to school?’ asked Marina Mauger of the NASUWT. ‘The people at STAC are giving medical advice but they aren’t the ones sitting in a classroom in a coat with 27 kids for five to six hours.’

Although Mrs Mauger said that the ventilation policy appeared to have been altered slightly yesterday, with windows no longer required to be fully open, she was concerned that teachers may be susceptible to other winter illnesses as well as Covid.

Mrs Mauger was also disappointed by the low number of eligible pupils seeking tests.

‘I think transport to the testing centre was an issue for a lot of young pupils but also there is still a significant element of that age group who think they are impervious,’ she said.

Several teachers had reported opposition from pupils when they had been asked to wear masks, Mrs Mauger said, adding that the union was calling for masks to be made mandatory in secondary schools.

Patrick Roach, the union’s general secretary, added: ‘The NASUWT has been pressing hard for additional mitigations to be put in place for schools but these calls have been ignored by the government.

‘The result is an increasingly untenable situation where pupils and staff are being expected to soldier on in conditions which are antithetical to high-quality teaching and learning and which are putting their health and safety at unnecessary risk.

‘A move to remote learning now would help to safeguard the health and welfare of children, young people, school staff and the wider community and is the only sensible course of action in the current circumstances.

‘Ministers cannot continue to stubbornly disregard the welfare of pupils and the education workforce. They must act to keep everyone safe and suppress the virus.’

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