Children's commissioner slammed for suggesting teachers' concerns are causing a 'squabble' and schools should just reopen 'quickly'

Sirena Bergman@SirenaBergman
Saturday 16 May 2020 11:30
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The children's commissioner – whose job it is to look out for the interests of children – has called for them to return to school "as quickly as possible" and called teachers' unions' opposition a "squabble".

Anne Longfield, a former charity executive who has never been a teacher, was appointed in 2014 by Tory MP Nicky Morgan, who was education secretary at the time.

Longfield has spoken out today about the ongoing debate around reopening schools.

She said:

I am disappointed that the debate about when some primary school kids can return has descended into a squabble between government and the teaching unions. All sides need to show a greater will to work together in the interests of children.

Of course, teachers' unions exist to protect the rights of teachers, with ensuring a safe working environment being one of their most crucial remits.

After the government announced a plan to begin to reopen schools from 1 June, unions expressed their concerns that teachers would be put at risk of contracting Covid-19 if they were expected to go back to work during lockdown.

In a meeting held on Friday between education leaders and government health officials, these issues were expected to be addressed. However, The Guardian reports that union leaders said they were left with more questions than answers.

Patrick Roach, general secretary of teachers' union NASUWT, said the evidence presented at the meeting was "flimsy at best".

He added:

It’s disappointing that many of the questions that we put to the scientific advisers this afternoon haven’t yet been answered.

The British Medical Association (BMA) agreed, with chair of the council Chaand Nagpaul

We cannot risk a second spike or take actions which would increase the spread of this virus, particularly as we see sustained rates of infection across the UK.

The things that they told us didn’t give me confidence that we should be going ahead without the social distancing and measures that schools in other countries have. It’s really not clear what the government’s test is to reopen schools.

In this context, Longfield's comments seem even more odd. While it's true that missing school will disadvantage children, keeping them, their teachers and their families safe should surely be a priority.

Her calling unions' pleas to protect teachers a "squabble" has not gone down well.

We would have assumed that even a Tory appointee might pause before making light of workers' needs to not risk their lives, but perhaps not.

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