WARRINGTON Primary Schools will welcome more children back on Monday (June 8) despite Union fears it is still not yet safe for students or staff during the COVID-19 pandemic.
UNISON Warrington Local Government branch, which represents teaching assistants and other school support staff, including cleaners and caterers, has warned Warrington Borough Council that local schools are not yet safe for students or staff, despite plans for an expansion of pupil numbers on Monday.
But the council say they have been working closely with schools which have competed comprehensive risk assessments and say the ‘R’ rate in Warrington, remains below the National and North West average.
The local authority made the decision to expand pupil numbers on June 8 instead of June 1 in order to allow measures to be put into place to guarantee the safety of staff and students, but the union says that necessary action has not been taken.
Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance suggests that all workplaces should complete a risk assessment, consult trade unions and share the results of the risk assessment with staff and on the employer’s website.
Yet Warrington UNISON says that only one school in the whole borough has shown them a completed risk assessment.
Warrington UNISON is now extremely concerned that Monday’s return to schools will put both staff and pupils at risk. There is now a small and swiftly diminishing window of time for trade unions to provide feedback to any school risk assessments in order to ensure that safety measures can be approved and communicated with school staff.
UNISON has written to the local authority to express its concern and urge the council to reconsider its decision to expand pupil numbers on Monday, given the lack of progress on safety measures to date.
UNISON Warrington LG branch secretary Jason Horan said: “When the local authority announced the expansion of pupil numbers would take place on June 8, we raised the reasonable concerns of school support staff.
“With just two days until many of our members will be expected to return to work, it is clearer than ever that Warrington schools will not be safe for students and staff on Monday.
“We call on the Council to reconsider its decision and for local schools to work with us on urgently developing robust risk assessments which will help keep our communities safe. We have alerted our members that UNISON has not been consulted by schools and therefore school cleaners and caterers, teaching assistants and other support staff may be at risk.”
On top of concerns relating to risk assessments, UNISON is also calling on the local authority to complete an Equality Impact Assessment- particularly crucial given the virus’ disproportionate impact on BAME communities.
Just this week, UNISON and GMB unions reported the David Ross Education Trust, which runs 34 schools to the HSE for failing to consult staff properly on COVID-19 planning and putting their staff at ‘serious and imminent risk’.
Mr Horan added: “The David Ross Trust was reported to the HSE for failing to allow time to consult with staff over the return to work, failing to explain how they would be protected and leaving insufficient time to train staff on how to manage the return of pupils. UNISON is concerned that we may see similar issues in schools across Warrington due to the lack of planning and consultation. Pupil and staff safety must be prioritised by the local authority.”
But a Warrington Council spokesperson said: ““We are working closely with our schools to welcome more children back to school, starting with our primary schools from 8 June.
“The safety of children and our staff is paramount. All of our schools have completed comprehensive risk assessments, to ensure the safety of children and staff as far as possible.
“All schools have been provided with PPE by the council and will be supported by enhanced cleaning regimes. The schools who will be welcoming additional staff and children from Monday will brief both staff and their pupils on the arrangements that have been made to support them to return to school.
“Children and teachers will work in small groups known as ‘bubbles’ to maintain social distancing and we continue to take advice from Public Health England to ensure that the decisions we make continue to be evidence-based.
“The R rate in Warrington remains below the National and North West average. Schools have been contacted by parents who are keen for their children to return, but we also recognise that some parents will choose for their children not to return.
“We would like to reassure parents who are planning on taking their children to school on Monday that every precaution has been made for them to come back to an environment which is as safe as possible.”