Coronavirus: Majority of teaching assistants feel unsafe in London schools, says union survey

'It’s only right that our teaching assistants, caretakers and catering staff, deserve to go to work knowing they’re safe to do the vital role of supporting our children at school.

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Tuesday 22 September 2020 10:45
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GMB says staff are 'rightly scared'
GMB says staff are 'rightly scared'

A majority of teaching assistants feel unsafe in London schools and don’t believe adults are socially distancing from one another, according to an internal survey of GMB members.

Just two weeks after schools fully reopened in England for the first time since the coronavirus lockdown, the union said the results, combined with problems accessing Covid-19 tests, showed staff were “rightly scared”.

According to the survey of over 600 members, 55 per cent of teaching assistants surveyed said they did not feel safe at work while 44 per cent said they did feel safe.

The results, seen by The Independent, were similar when respondents were asked whether adults within the school were socially distancing from one another: a majority (58 per cent) said no while 41 per cent said staff were socially distanced.

The Department for Education (DfE) urges adults in schools to “minimise contact between individuals and maintain social distancing wherever possible” in order to prevent the ability of the virus to spread.

On additional Covid-19 cleaning regimes, such as wiping frequently touched contact points, including door handles and bannisters, 79 per cent of members reported the extra cleaning being carried out while one in five said they were not.

Lisa Bangs, a GMB London organiser, said: “Our members can’t get a test despite the cases of Covid-19 in our schools rising. On top of this, there’s clearly a struggle to meet even the basic virus protections of social distancing. Our school support staff are rightly scared.

“The testing fiasco this week shows that there’s an absence of support for the staff educating our children. It appears everyone apart from this government knew that when schools re-opened in September, we’d need more Covid-19 tests. It is a total failure of a system that should guarantee a safe return to schools for all our key workers.

“There is a complete disconnect between what our members are facing today and what this government is telling the public. It’s only right that our teaching assistants, care takers and catering staff, deserve to go to work knowing they’re safe to do the vital role of supporting our children at school.”

The DfE states, on current evidence, “schools are not currently considered high-risk settings when compared to other workplace environments”, but the GMB union survey points to high levels of anxiety among members at current safeguards.

One teaching assistant added: “I’m extremely annoyed and upset with this current situation, we have all returned to school in good faith despite all the unanswered questions and we are being let down by a government that is clueless, reactive and couldn’t care less.”

A spokesperson for DfE said: “Teachers and all school staff have gone to extraordinary lengths to get children back into school, and schools have been implementing protective measures which are designed to reduce risks of transmission. The decisions we have taken during this unprecedented time have been guided by the best scientific and medical advice.

“Testing capacity is the highest it has ever been, but we are seeing a significant demand for tests. It is vital that children and school staff only get a test if they develop coronavirus symptoms. If a positive case is confirmed in a school, swift action is being taken to ask those who have been in close contact to self-isolate, and a dedicated helpline has been established to support and advise schools in this situation. We will continue to work with schools to ensure all appropriate steps are taken to keep pupils and staff safe.”

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