Parents accuse unions of using their 'checklist' to sabotage attempts to reopen schools

Camilla Turner
Schools across the country were due to reopen on Monday to pupils in Reception, Year One and Year Six

Parents in Brighton have told of their exasperation as they accuse unions of using their “checklist” to sabotage attempts to reopen schools, while at the same time blocking children's access to home learning.

Schools across the country were due to reopen on Monday to pupils in Reception, Year One and Year Six, but parents in some parts of England were left feeling frustrated and let down.

“Our headteacher has managed to get Year Six in for a few days from next week,” one parent told The Daily Telegraph.

“He had pushed for Reception and Year One to be back too but it is unlikely he will be able to get more years back until September, mostly due to teacher opposition and the requirements of their union”.

The UK’s largest teacher union, the National Education Union (NEU), has drawn up a “checklist” that runs to over 100 items which they say their members should seek assurance from their school on before they agree to return to work.

The list includes asking schools whether they intend to sanitise library books and whether they have a system in place to monitor children’s face touching before they reopen.

It also stipulates that arts and crafts materials used for painting, sticking and cutting should also be washed before and after use by children. Separate NEU guidance for teachers about home learning stipulate that they should not conduct any online lessons which made them feel "uncomfortable".

The union told its members that online lessons should be kept to "a minimum" and that they "cannot be expected to carry out routine marking or grading" of pupils' work while schools are closed.

The advice document adds that teachers should not live-stream lessons from home or do any video calls with pupils unless in "exceptional circumstances".

NEU membership is high in Brighton, the parent said, meaning that even if headteachers want to reopen schools to more children they say that their hands are tied if they cannot convince enough of their staff to return to work.

“I think it’s just ridiculous,” the parent said. “I would feel better if there was genuine home learning provision for the children to keep them engaged. The unions are saying ‘we can’t open the schools and we can’t do anything online’.

“Some teachers are doing zoom lessons – but that’s because they are not members of the union. By the time September comes my child will have been out of school for six months.”  

Brighton and Hove was one of 53 local councils across the country to state their opposition to the Government’s plan for primary schools to reopen on June 1 for children in Reception, Year One and Year Six. The council stated in the middle of last month that schools should reopen “when their risk assessments indicate it is safe to do so”.

They said it was likely that different schools would open at different times depending on their particular circumstances. But on Friday – just two days before primary schools were due to reopen – the council hardened its stance and urged schools not to open.

Cllr John Allcock, chair of the council's children, young people and skills committee, said on Friday he is “not confident” that effective testing and tracing is in place. "Therefore our current advice to Brighton & Hove schools and council nurseries is that they should not open more widely for pupils on 1 June,” he said.