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“Scared, over-worked and exhausted”: Teachers and school staff call for immediate Welsh Government action on Covid safety
School leaders, teachers and school staff from across Wales have called for Welsh Government to strengthen its approach to Covid safety in schools following a large-scale, cross-union meeting last night.
Hundreds of school workers met at the Wales TUC’s Keeping Schools Safe and Open event on Thursday evening (October 7th) to share experiences and discuss the huge challenges currently facing schools as they attempt to operate in the face of high Covid infection rates.
All the education trade unions are in agreement with the Welsh Government that continued learning in school should be a priority. However, they are pushing for greater mitigation measures to help protect staff and pupils and to allow schools to stay open.
Proposed measures include:
- A review of the current framework risk levels and mitigation measures to determine whether more stringent measures are needed to maintain the continuity of education e.g. grouping of learners, staggered session times, isolating contacts, mask wearing.
- Produce clear guidance on expectations for schools to support learners at home due to self-isolation or class/school closures.
- Produce clear guidance for schools on the use of CO2 monitors and produce a clear strategy on how to deal with issues of poor ventilation when they arise. This should include funding set aside to address any significant issues identified.
- Clearly commit funding COVID-19-related staff absence, including cover for staff with caring responsibilities, staff who are 28 weeks pregnant and staff who need to self-isolate.
- Fund all measures needed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 – including any works to ensure windows can be opened, HEPA filters, and the use of individual risk assessments.
- Increase capacity in the TTP system so schools have sufficient levels of support.
- Review all TTP guidance and approach to supporting schools and bringing consistency to the system across all LHBs.
Shavanah Taj, Wales TUC General Secretary said:
“The whole school workforce is in agreement that mitigations need to be stronger throughout Wales to keep schools open. Teachers, teaching assistants, headteachers and support staff are scared, over-worked and exhausted. Welsh Government needs to listen to them and recognise that they’re the experts on what’s happening in schools.”
Laura Doel, NAHT Cymru Director said:
“For school leaders to break down when sharing their accounts of what it’s like in school at the moment is heart-breaking. Their fears, their concerns and their worries are real. Staff absence is crippling their ability to keep their schools open and they feel powerless to do anything about it. These people are begging the Welsh Government for help yet no-one is listening. Unless action is taken immediately to support our schools, we are at serious risk of causing long term damage to the profession.”
Mary van den Heuvel, NEU Senior Policy Officer said:
"It was really worrying to hear from such a wide range of education professionals about the situation on the ground in Wales. I hope the Welsh Government has heard loud and clear that changes need to be made to the situation in schools across Wales, to ensure that staff and students are safe.
“Education cannot continue to be disrupted by such high levels of staff and students getting ill. Whilst we're pleased the Welsh Government has acknowledged it is not business as usual, it is important to ensure that every classroom is properly ventilated, and that education settings are able to introduce measures to help protect staff and students from getting covid. We all wish the pandemic was over, but the numbers of absences in our schools says otherwise.”
Rosie Lewis, Unison Regional Organiser said:
“The current control framework doesn’t go far enough to ensure mitigation measures protect pupils and those working in schools. Staff selflessly turn up every day, not knowing whether those they are in very close contact with might be contagious. The number of covid 19 cases amongst school children in Wales is rising and UNISON members feel vulnerable and anxious. We are asking Welsh Government to strengthen measures such as re-introducing the wearing of face coverings in all areas of school as an attempt to curb the spread any further, to improve confidence and reduce anxiety amongst staff, pupils and parents.”
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