Northern Ireland news

Government advice on teachers not needing PPE 'unhelpful'

New NASUWT General Secretary Patrick Roach

ADVICE suggesting that teachers do not need personal protective equipment in the classroom during the Covid-19 outbreak is "dodgy".

Patrick Roach, the new general secretary of the NASUWT, said teachers on the front line were demanding PPE and testing.

Mr Roach said many were concerned about the health of their families.

Updated government guidance has said that staff in schools, colleges and nurseries "do not require" PPE.

They must instead focus on social distancing measures and handwashing to limit the spread.

The NASUWT has said teachers and classroom assistants who are supervising children of key workers and vulnerable pupils do not have enough soap and hot water to wash their hands.

To date, the north's schools have received 18,343 bottles of hand sanitizer, 5,000 disinfectant wipes, more than 30,000 aprons, 2,500 gloves delivered with more stock available, 60 face shields and thousands of containers of disinfectant.

Some schools, including Lisneal College in Derry, have sourced their own PPE to give to anyone coming into the building.

Mr Roach said the latest government advice was "unhelpful".

"Our concern as a union is that in the midst of a crisis in supply and demand, guidance is being published which asserts that teachers in any setting do not require access to PPE," he said.

"The reality of the matter is that practising stringent social distancing in the context of working with young children, and working with children with moderate or profound learning difficulties, is going to be, to say the least, very challenging for a teacher.

"Teachers are being asked, when the rest of the country is being asked to stay at home, to leave their homes on a daily basis to support children of key workers and vulnerable children. We think there is an obligation on the government to listen to that concern from the profession about providing access to PPE."

Schools in Northern Ireland closed last month due to the coronavirus outbreak. There is no indication yet as to when they may be able to reopen but it will not be before the end of the academic year. All exams have been cancelled.

Dr Roach urged the government not to "rush" to reopen schools to all pupils until teachers had been properly consulted on the process as he warned that learning could be "compromised".

He added that asking pupils to return to school during the summer break to start the next academic year early could lead to burn-out.

"We wouldn't want to see children becoming casualties of this Covid-19 situation," he said.

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Northern Ireland news