Posted: Fri 19th Jun 2020

Thousands of support staff across Wales believe schools should remain closed until September

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Friday, Jun 19th, 2020

Thousands of support staff across Wales believe opening schools later this month is too soon, according to the results of a trade union survey

Over 70% of almost 4,000 workers who responded to UNISON’s questionnaire voiced concerns about the Welsh Government’s plans to restart education on June 29th, expressing a preference for the date to be moved to September instead.

The top concern raised by the workforce, which includes teaching assistants, cooks, cleaners, administrative staff and caretakers, centred around the challenge of ensuring social distancing is observed

The 3,780 responses were received over a six-day period and included feedback from staff in each of the 22 local authority areas in Wales, which the union said demonstrated the strength of feeling over the issue.

However, Welsh Health Minister Vaughan Gething stressed yesterday the government would not change its plans.

UNISON said staff were keen to welcome pupils back as soon as is safely possible, but have serious reservations over the practicalities of reopening.

Jonathan Lewis, the union’s schools forum chair, said: “The engagement in this survey shows the strength of feeling and concern amongst school support staff.

“To receive almost 4,000 responses in such a short period of time is remarkable and these voices must not be ignored.

“The overwhelming majority of teaching assistants, cooks, cleaners, caretakers, and the many other workers who make up the education team believe 29 June is too soon to open schools.

“To add to this, 60 percent of respondents feel there are not adequate numbers of cleaning staff to fulfil the huge responsibility of maintaining high cleaning standards across schools.

“The safety of our communities is paramount, as is instilling confidence amongst pupils, parents and the workforce.

“These results demonstrate that confidence is simply not there at the moment and there is a lot of work to do to address these concerns in a very short period of time.”

When questioned on the survey results at today’s daily government press briefing, Mr Gething said he did not believe reopening schools would place staff in harm’s way.

In his response, he pointed to the risks taken by health and social care workers during the pandemic, claiming those in education would be safer.

“I think it’s really important we listen to the concerns of people who are already in work as well as those being asked to return to work.

“There have been lots of Unison, GMB and Unite members working as school support staff right across Wales and our education hubs, right through the height of the pandemic.

“We know that they’ve been at much lesser risk than other areas of activity, for example, people working in social care and health care.

“Understandably, there are different risks that they run even with appropriate PPE, so we’re certainly doing nothing to have unacceptable risk.”

He went on to highlight the harm caused to children due to being out of education for so long.

Mr Gething said: “We’re not asking staff to go and put themselves at risk in a way that you or I wouldn’t accept for the way that we do our jobs.

“But we do need to balance the interests of all those children who are not in school at present and a broader school programme across each of the schools we have will see more of the children we’re most concerned about able to return.

“In the conversations with education unions, I think there is an understanding that there is harm being caused to children’s future prospects by not being able to see more education activity restart.”

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