Portsmouth teacher and National Education Union chief says teachers need greater protection as they put ‘themselves as risk’

THE PRESIDENT of the country’s largest teaching union has demanded more is done to protect the health and safety of the region’s children and teachers during the coronavirus crisis.

Wednesday, 25th March 2020, 2:27 pm
Updated Thursday, 26th March 2020, 4:32 pm

With schools remaining open for key worker children, Portsmouth teacher and National Education Union leader, Amanda Martin, feels ‘stronger guidelines’ are needed as teachers are ‘putting themselves at risk’.

Ms Martin said: ‘Our priority as a union is to our members and the children and young people they work with. We are concerned that government advice for schools is not strong enough. We have got to get on the front foot if we are to slow transmission and flatten the curve.

‘Government protocols on distance and hand-washing for children have to ensure safety. The vast majority of children are themselves at low risk but are nonetheless carriers, so we must ensure that intensified cleanliness and minimised exposure rapidly become the norm in those schools which are having to remain open.’

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National Education Union president, Amanda Martin, feels all teachers working in key worker schools should be tested for coronavirus. Picture: Habibur Rahman

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The Portsmouth primary school teacher also feels staff should be universally tested to reduce the risk of infection.

Ms Martin added: ‘Virus testing must be available to schools. With so many parents on the key worker list, this means an extensive effort is required to make sure every school can access the tests. This is no time for half-measures.

‘This means testing of all education staff and that no one at heightened risk attends schools and colleges. No staff should attend who are vulnerable or would go home to family who are vulnerable.’

Schools are doing their best to minimise the risk of spreading the dangerous disease.

Headteacher at The Cowplain School Ian Gates said: ‘Obviously everyone is mindful of striking a careful balance between social isolation and protecting staff and students and maintaining a good service for the children of our key workers.

‘We are extra vigilant with hand washing, we sit children 2 metres apart and are very vigilant should anyone present as unwell.’

The Department for Education (DFE) have pledged to support schools but have reiterated the safest course of action is to keep children at home.

A spokeswoman said: ‘We are closely monitoring the situation and will continue to work with local authorities to ensure schools and colleges get the help and support they need over the challenging weeks and months ahead.

‘We are urging people to do everything they can to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.’

Ms Martin added: ‘We are liaising with the DfE to ensure action is taken. If we are to help the community, which we should, we need maximum protection from the government. Our members' are doing enormously brave work. As with NHS workers, they are putting themselves at risk.’

The government have now published guidelines on the DfE website which stipulates that ‘class sizes should be kept as small as possible’, staggering break and lunchtimes to ‘reduce large groups of children gathering’ and to avoid any ‘unnecessary travel on buses or public transport’. Parents have also been warned not to gather at school gates.

Portsmouth City Council has said it is following government advice which is being ‘updated on a daily basis’.