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10 of the questions teachers are being urged to ask before schools reopen

PUBLISHED: 21:35 18 May 2020 | UPDATED: 21:39 18 May 2020

Not everyone is happy with their homeschooling teacher.

Not everyone is happy with their homeschooling teacher.

Teachers and support staff should ask dozens of questions about safety before schools decide to open their doors to more pupils next month, according to the latest guidance from education unions.

Many primary school classrooms have been empty since March but pupils could return in a phased reopening from June 1. Picture: Getty ImagesMany primary school classrooms have been empty since March but pupils could return in a phased reopening from June 1. Picture: Getty Images

The National Education Union (NEU), the biggest teaching union, has laid down a lengthy list of requirements to be met before schools in England can reopen, including limiting pupil numbers so a two-metre distance can be maintained.

The “checklist”, which is also backed by Unite, Unison and GMB, who represent many school support staff, also says there should be “no marking” of books for safety reasons.

MORE: Government minister pleads with unions to find practical solutions ahead of school reopenings

The guide, sent to primary school staff on Sunday, asks members to go through a 20-page guide with their school.

If there are not satisfactory answers to questions on the checklist, then it “will not be feasible or safe to extend opening” until concerns are met, it says.

Among the dozens of questions suggested include:

Social distancing at the start and end of each school day is among the questions teachers are being urged to ask. Picture: Getty ImagesSocial distancing at the start and end of each school day is among the questions teachers are being urged to ask. Picture: Getty Images

• How does the school propose to ensure social distancing at the start and end of each school day?

• If it is planned to undertake temperature checks, how will this be managed safely in terms of social distancing between the child and member of staff and to avoid queues building up?

• How will overcrowding at the school gates or in the playground be prevented?

• Can confirmation be given that, if any member of staff wishes to wear a face covering, they will not be prevented from doing so?

• It will not be safe to mark children’s books during this period. Will clear instruction be given that no marking should take place and the books should not be taken to and from home/school?

How children too young to social distance is one of the issues surrounding the return of schools.. Picture: Getty ImagesHow children too young to social distance is one of the issues surrounding the return of schools.. Picture: Getty Images

• Will library books be regularly sanitised?

• Some teaching assistants will be used to working in very close proximity to individual pupils, so how can this work continue in a safe manner?

• What arrangements are in place to ensure that meals can be safely prepared and served?

• Have assemblies and the coming together of other large groups, both staff and pupils, been suspended?

• How will staff be supported to teach outside their usual year group/key stage responsibility?

John Fisher, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for childrens services. Picture: Broadland District CouncilJohn Fisher, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for childrens services. Picture: Broadland District Council

A planning guide from the unions says it seems “extremely unlikely” that the circumstances nationally will allow a wider reopening of schools on June 1.

On the checklist, Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: “It sets out the standards which teachers, school staff and parents should expect to be met before the head teacher decides that the school is safe to open more widely.”

It comes as a row over when schools in England should reopen to more primary school pupils rages on. Chief executives of academy chains have said schools must reopen soon to avoid “irreparable” damage to vulnerable children, while union bosses say more scientific evidence is needed to show it is safe.

The Department for Education (DfE) last week acknowledged that young children could not be expected to remain two metres apart from each other and staff.

Instead, the Government advice said primary school class sizes should be limited to 15 pupils - and these small “consistent” groups should be kept from mixing with other pupils and staff during the day.

But the guidelines from the unions calls on head teachers to maintain social distancing in classrooms, and in movement around the school, and operate in a similar way to other workplaces.

MORE: Heads know best when schools should reopen, say council chiefs

Education chiefs in Norfolk have said they recognise how “demanding” it will be for schools to open to more children in the months ahead - and that head teachers will be best placed to decide when to reopen.

John Fisher, cabinet member for children’s services at Norfolk County Council, said: “We all want life to return to normal and for children to be able to get back to school, nursery and college so that they can carry on with their education and be with their friends.

“However, this needs to happen in a very careful way so that we do not see any further peaks in infection and children and staff can stay as safe as possible.

“We will continue to support schools with their planning in the coming weeks, to ensure they have the advice and help they need to safely open to more children, when the time is right.”


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