Labour Research April 2021

Health & Safety Matters

School safety measures not adequate

A snapshot survey of school support staff in England by the UNISON public services union found half were anxious about the return to classrooms last month. Many feared measures to keep them safe are inadequate.

More than 8,000 staff, including teaching assistants, cleaners, technicians and catering staff, took part in a UNISON poll shortly before the “big bang” return to school on 8 March.

Major concerns included the absence of adequate protective kit and poor social distancing, while one in three feared school ventilation systems are not up to the job. More than a third (35%) had not seen their school’s risk assessment or received an individual safety check. ​

UNISON says support staff are “uniquely vulnerable” to a COVID outbreak in schools, as they tend to be older and are more likely to be Black and have underlying health conditions than the generally younger teaching population.

The vast majority think the “big bang” reopening of schools was a mistake. Almost three-quarters (74%) favoured a phased or staggered return.

Education unions warned the full reopening of schools would bring nearly 10 million pupils and staff into circulation in England — close to one-fifth of the population.

“Children need to be back in school, but the justifiable fears of support staff need to be heard and addressed too,” said UNISON head of education Jon Richards.