A hardline teaching union last night turned its back on a bold plan to vaccinate the country’s entire classroom staff and get pupils back to school in weeks.
The Left-wing National Education Union dismissed the ambitious scheme to vaccinate one million teachers during a seven-day window next month, suggesting it would continue to oppose the reopening of classrooms even if school staff were prioritised for jabs.
Last night, an education expert accused the NEU, the UK’s largest teaching union with 450,000 members, of refusing to back the plan because it had been masterminded by top private schools and academies.
A classroom is pictured above in September. Under the emergency scheme, 150 independent schools and state academies would become vaccination hubs, with medically trained staff inoculating school workers for 16 hours a day
Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham, said: ‘What may have triggered this reaction from the NEU is the offer came from the independent school sector and academies.
‘Both are anathema to the NEU as a political organisation – the academies because they run schools outside of local authority control.’
This newspaper last week revealed how a coalition of leading private and state schools had made an extraordinary offer to vaccinate all of England’s teachers and education staff during a half-term blitz next month.
Under the emergency scheme, 150 independent schools and state academies would become vaccination hubs, with medically trained staff inoculating school workers for 16 hours a day.
Mary Bousted, the joint general secretary of the NEU, said: ‘We think that putting teachers and support staff through a vaccination programme with some priority is a good move, but we’ve never said when that should happen and although that would protect teachers and support staff and make them more confident about being in schools, it won’t stop community transmission’
St Paul’s School in London, Rugby in Warwickshire and St Peter’s in York are among those to volunteer to become vaccination centres.
The blueprint won the support of Labour leader Keir Starmer who urged Boris Johnson to prioritise the vaccination of teachers.
Writing in today’s Mail on Sunday, Sir Keir said: ‘Across the country, parents are doing their best but there is no substitute for face-to-face learning… I believe we can take a further step towards reopening our schools by getting our teachers and school staff vaccinated as soon as possible.’
His intervention came as:
- More than 108,000 parents signed a petition urging Ministers to back the plan;lSir Richard Sykes, the ex-boss of pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, supported calls for teachers to be vaccinated as a priority next month;
- Historian Sir Anthony Seldon, former Master of Wellington College, a £41,580-a-year private school, warned it will take a decade for Britain to recover from the damage school closures are causing to education and mental health;
- One in five parents is unhappy with the online lessons provided by their child’s primary school in lockdown, a survey revealed.
The drive to vaccinate teachers in half term has been spearheaded by the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, which represent nearly 300 private schools; Cognita, a group of 40 private schools; and the Academy Enterprise Trust and Ormiston Academies Trust, which together sponsor almost 100 state-funded schools.
A petition on the Change.org website urging the Government to implement their plan has attracted more than 108,000 supporters, while Steve Chalke, founder of the Oasis academy trust, which boasts 53 state schools, said the scheme was a ‘really good solution’.
But in a statement to the MoS, Mary Bousted, the joint general secretary of the NEU, said: ‘We think that putting teachers and support staff through a vaccination programme with some priority is a good move, but we’ve never said when that should happen and although that would protect teachers and support staff and make them more confident about being in schools, it won’t stop community transmission.’
She also claimed that by December secondary school pupils ‘were the most infected age group, and primary pupils the second most infected ‘ and that schools must be made ‘Covid-secure’ to prevent the spread of the virus.
Public Health England said that Dr Bousted’s claims ‘don’t correspond to our data’.
Weekly monitoring reports show that throughout last month the highest number of positive cases were found among 20- to 29-year-olds and then 30- to 39-year-olds.
Separate evidence gathered by PHE during the autumn term suggests transmission rates in primary schools is ‘extremely low and outbreaks are rare’.
The NEU said it based its figures on Department for Education data and ‘cannot be held responsible for the DfE releasing inaccurate information’.
Robin Bevan, president of the NEU and headteacher of Southend High School for Boys, criticised Mr Starmer’s support for the plan, last week accusing the leader of joining a ‘bandwagon’.
Writing on Twitter, he said: ‘As media-amplified voices clamour for schools to resume full attendance: let’s remember 10 Downing Street reverted to ‘remote learning’ to reduce community viral transmission. Until that happens, ALL other concerns must be considered marginal. That’s it.’ But the NEU’s stance has horrified many parents juggling work with home schooling.
‘They do not understand the pressure on parents,’ a 50-year-old mother-of-two in North Wales told the MoS. ‘It is just utterly exhausting and brings a level of mental and emotional stress that is not sustainable.’
Chris McGovern, a former education policy adviser to Margaret Thatcher and chairman of the Campaign For Real Education, said: ‘The National Education Union should rename itself the Non Education Union.
‘Clearly they are looking for every reason they can find to keep the schools closed.’
The NEU last night said it wants schools to open but ‘when it is safe to do so’. A spokesman added that Professor Smithers’s comments do not reflect its position on private schools or academies
Sir Richard Sykes, who led a review of the Government’s Vaccines Taskforce last month, said there is a ‘very, very good case’ for vaccinating teachers once NHS staff, those over 70 and the extremely vulnerable are inoculated in mid-February. ‘Young people are the future, and if we don’t get them back to school and interacting with each other and learning and developing this is also a very serious problem.’
Sir Anthony Seldon, 67, said he would ‘willingly give up my vaccine for a teacher’, adding: ‘Already it will take ten years to recover from this damage to the education and mental health of young people.’
Sally-Anne Huang, the High Master of St Paul’s who tested positive for Covid last month, said vaccinating teachers would help keep ‘schools running smoothly’ by reducing teacher absences. ‘It’s five weeks since my positive Covid test and I’m still not able to work a full day,’ she tweeted.
The NEU last night said it wants schools to open but ‘when it is safe to do so’. A spokesman added that Professor Smithers’s comments do not reflect its position on private schools or academies.
The NEC has thousands of members in independent schools and its view on the oversight of academies ‘has no bearing’ on its position on vaccinations, she added.
SIR KEIR STARMER: Let’s harness the spirit that has made us the envy of the world – to get EVERY child back to school
This pandemic, with the endless round of lockdowns that go with it, has been devastating for our country. It has taken the lives of more than 100,000 people.
It has done unimaginable damage to our economy, with businesses forced to close and billions of pounds of public debt being racked up every week.
And it has forced the Government to shut our schools for millions of children for weeks on end.
Our teachers and school staff have done an extraordinary job keeping schools open as long as possible and adapting to new ways of learning.
Even when schools were open, learning was constantly disrupted. Children were in school one week, out of school the next, then learning from home again. That is no way to learn, writes Sir Keir Starmer (pictured)
They know more than most the damage that is being done every day that millions of pupils are out of the classroom.
Parents are frustrated and worried. Children are suffering. Across the country, parents are doing their best but there is no substitute for face-to-face learning.
A good education is what makes us a good society. It is the springboard to getting a good job, the chance to go to university or take on an apprenticeship. It allows our businesses to hire the best talent so we can compete on the global stage.
It helps children to develop and grow, to build relationships with others and become well-rounded individuals and citizens of our country.
Those skills simply cannot be learnt from staring at a screen for hours on end or, despite their best efforts, delivered by parents who are having to juggle home schooling with working from home.
Even when schools were open, learning was constantly disrupted. Children were in school one week, out of school the next, then learning from home again. That is no way to learn.
Parents are frustrated and worried. Children are suffering. Across the country, parents are doing their best but there is no substitute for face-to-face learning
I fear we’re going to see that disruption again in March if we don’t take decisive action now.
I share the Government’s ambition to make it a national mission to reopen our schools. I will do everything in my power as leader of the Labour Party to make that happen.
I have offered to work with the Prime Minister on this, including calling for the opening of ‘Nightingale-style classrooms’, and I renew that commitment today.
I believe we can take a further step towards reopening our schools by getting our teachers and school staff vaccinated as soon as possible, as The Mail on Sunday has called for.
Rollout of the vaccine has been a national success story. Our NHS, the pharmaceutical companies, scientists and volunteers have already given hope to millions of people. The news last week that more vaccines could be on the way is a further boost to getting Britain vaccinated.
We were the first in the world to get the vaccine and I believe we can be the first in the world to get our country vaccinated.
It is right that the most vulnerable are being vaccinated first and we are on course to hit that target by mid-February.
With the extra capacity and new vaccines on the way, we can then use the half-term window to immunise our teachers and school staff, alongside the existing rollout plan.
This is not about de-prioritising existing groups. That is not what I am calling for. It is about having the ambition to do both.
Rollout of the vaccine has been a national success story. Our NHS, the pharmaceutical companies, scientists and volunteers have already given hope to millions of people
I’ve met the staff at the vaccine centres and I know they are up for this challenge. We can capture that spirit by going further, faster and smarter too.
For example, we should be looking at how we can use our supply more efficiently. It’s estimated that five per cent of vaccines are wasted. That could mean more than 120,000 a week based on recent numbers – or the equivalent of more than ten per cent of school staff in England.
This is a practical, constructive, sensible proposal. It has the support of all four Children’s Commissioners in the UK, the Conservative chairman of the Commons education committee, teachers, the public and even Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has said it is worthy of exploring.
I was disappointed the idea was dismissed so quickly by the Prime Minister on Wednesday, but I would urge him to reconsider.
We cannot miss this opportunity by making it into a party political issue – or expect the British public to understand why our schools are closed and our borders are still open.
We are only going to get our children back into school, reopen society and secure our economy if we are bold, decisive and working together.
That is our shared goal. Let’s work together to get it done.
Thousands of teachers across the US get Covid vaccination as health chiefs prioritise them after care homes and health workers so schools can reopen
- Teachers began receiving jabs in New York this month in bid to re-open schools
- Study finds 34 out 50 states had moved teachers towards the front of the queue
- One high school history teacher said she cried when she made her appointment
By Mark Hookham, Holly Bancroft and Michael Powell for the Mail on Sunday
Thousands of teachers in the US have already been vaccinated against Covid after they were prioritised so that schools can reopen.
Federal health chiefs recommended that the country’s 3.3 million teachers should be inoculated after care home residents and health care workers in the queue but in the same group as the over-75s.
Teachers began receiving jabs in New York earlier this month and more than 5,000 have received a first dose of vaccine.
The plan was agreed last month by the US Advisory Committee on Immunization Practises, their version of the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.
Teachers began receiving jabs in New York earlier this month and more than 5,000 have received a first dose of vaccine. Teacher Lisa Egan claps after she receives the Moderna coronavirus vaccine jab in the city
‘I cried when I made the appointment,’ said Sari Rosenberg, a high school history teacher in Manhattan. ‘It’s the first step to getting back and seeing family and teaching my students in a classroom.’
Rebecca Crawford, 39, another New York high school teacher, received her first vaccine dose at Kings County Hospital, Brooklyn.
‘For so long there’s nothing that felt concrete that I could do to get to see my students,’ she said.
While individual states have the authority to decide who should be prioritised for Covid jabs, a study by researchers at the John Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics in Baltimore found that 34 out 50 had moved teachers towards the front of the queue.
Teachers in Arizona have since January been able to receive jabs at the stadium used by the Arizona Cardinals American football team, while the vaccination of Oregon’s teachers began last Monday. Vaccinations of California teachers could start next month.
Meanwhile, a range of approaches to school closures have been adopted across Europe. Schools in France that returned from the Christmas break on January 4 remain open, although all pupils have to wear masks on the school premises and in class.
The Italian government has also been determined to keep infant and primary schools open throughout the pandemic, providing millions of surgical masks for children old enough to wear them.
While individual states have the authority to decide who should be prioritised for Covid jabs, a study by researchers at the John Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics in Baltimore found that 34 out 50 had moved teachers towards the front of the queue. A teacher is seen registering for the jab in New York
Schools remain closed in Denmark, although major changes were made last year to prevent classroom transmission of the virus.
Extra teachers were recruited and museums and theatres were converted into classrooms, allowing class sizes to drop to about ten or 12 pupils.
Steve Chalke, founder of the Oasis academy trust, a network of 53 UK state schools, believes schools here should take similar innovative steps to create more space for pupils, including using marquees as temporary classrooms.
‘You need the vaccine but you also need more space if you are going to get all kids back,’ he said.
‘Marquees in playgrounds are fantastic – you can take the sides off, it gives you the cover in case it rains… you get fresh air and you get more space.’
This post was first published on DailyMail.