GMB: Government ignored BAME parent concerns over June schools reopening

Information obtained by trade union GMB has found that the government ignored BAME parents’ concerns when it pushed ahead with plans for a ‘phased reopening’ of schools in June.

Following a freedom of information request to the Cabinet Office, the union uncovered previously unpublished research carried out in April by YouGov on whether parents would be prepared to send their children back into schools.

The government-commissioned study showed that 42% of BAME parents had said they would not send their child back. Parents on lower incomes were also much less likely to do so than others at 40%.

GMB secretary for public services Rehana Azam described it as “outrageous” that ministers had continued with their “flawed” reopening plans after research had shown the “fear and anxiety” felt by communities worst hit by Covid-19.

She said: “They say that the virus does not discriminate, but it is clear that society does – and once again, BAME voices have been marginalised. It should not have taken a freedom of information request to bring this evidence into the public domain.

“GMB calls on the government to fully engage with the unions, monitor the return to school carefully, fix the failing track and trace system, and be clear with the public about any new concerns that arise in the days and weeks ahead.”

At the time of the poll, the scientific advisory group for emergencies reported that 45% of parents “definitely would” or “probably would” send children back if social distancing guidelines were back.

The British Polling Council, of which YouGov is a member sets out in its rules that once findings from a survey have “entered the public domain”, the full results must be published within two working days.

The Cabinet Office instead refused to publish the full survey on the grounds that “disclosure would weaken ministers’ ability to discuss controversial and sensitive topics free from premature public scrutiny”.

The government had to abandon its June 1st deadline for partial reopening of schools after government figures showed that just 52% of schools opened with only 25% of children eligible returning.

Azam said: “Education unions including GMB warned repeatedly that schools were not ready to return, and that important issues including provision of personal protective equipment had not been resolved.

“Dozens of school support staff workers have lost their lives, and it is crucial as schools return that their voices are listened to.”

Schools reopened earlier this month, after the government reversed its position on the use of face masks in the educational settings. Children above the age of seven are now advised to wear a covering in school corridors.

A number of Covid outbreaks have been reported in schools since young people returned to class last week, including at a school in Castle Rock that was visited by the Prime Minister just two weeks ago.

GMB will give evidence to the all-party parliamentary group on coronavirus later today, which has recently put out a call for evidence to hear from those affected by the pandemic and make recommendations to the government.

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