Government advice suggesting that teachers do not need personal protective equipment (PPE) when working in schools during the Covid-19 outbreak is “dodgy” and “unhelpful”, a union leader has warned.
School staff looking after the children of critical workers and vulnerable pupils say they do not have enough soap and hot water to wash their hands, according to teachers’ union the NASUWT.
Patrick Roach, the new general secretary of the NASUWT, said a number of teachers on the front line are calling for access to PPE and Covid-19 testing as they are concerned about the health of their families.
But Government guidance, updated earlier this week, has said that staff in schools, colleges and nurseries “do not require” PPE.
They must instead focus on social distancing measures and handwashing to limit the spread of Covid-19.
Speaking to the PA news agency, Dr Roach said: “Our concern as a union is that in the midst of a crisis in supply and demand, guidance is being published which asserts that teachers in any setting do not require access to PPE.”
He added: “The reality of the matter is that practising stringent social distancing in the context of working with young children, and working with children with moderate or profound learning difficulties, is going to be, to say the least, very challenging for a teacher.”
A recent survey of 950 NASUWT members found that nearly a third (32%) of school staff said there was not adequate provision of soap and hot water for handwashing in their workplace.
Dr Roach said: “[Teachers] are being asked, when the rest of the country is being asked to stay at home, to leave their homes on a daily basis to support children of key workers and vulnerable children.
“We think there is an obligation on the Government to listen to that concern from the profession about providing access to PPE.”
He also urged the Government not to “rush” to reopen schools to all pupils until teachers had been properly consulted on the process as he warned that learning could be “compromised”.
Dr Roach added that asking students to return to school during the summer break, which runs from mid July to late August, to start the academic year early could lead to pupil burn-out.
He said: “We wouldn’t want to see children becoming casualties of this Covid-19 situation.”
His warning came as heads have suggested that schools should reopen for a period before the summer holidays, rather than September, if the scientific advice says it is safe to do so.
Schools in England closed three weeks ago due to the coronavirus outbreak. There is no indication yet as to when they may be able to reopen.
Amid the closures, the NASUWT is also calling on the Government to ensure that all students at home have access to broadband and resources so disadvantaged pupils do not miss out.
“Free school meals is only one part of the diet that is served up in school. Learning is the other part of the diet and for many children from poor households access to technology may not be there. Government needs to be concerned about that and do something about it,” said Dr Roach.
Dr Roach was speaking to PA as he formally took over the reins from Chris Keates, who was general secretary of the NASUWT for 16 years.
A Department for Education spokesman said: “We will reopen schools when the scientific advice indicates it is safe to do so.
“Teachers and school staff are an essential part of our fight against coronavirus. We will continue to work with the sector to ensure they receive the support they need over the challenging weeks and months ahead.”