Teachers have no faith in government to handle Covid, NEU survey finds

Andrew Kersley

Faith in the government among teaching staff is at rock bottom according to new research from the National Education Union (NEU), as 84% of those polled said they did not trust that schools would be kept safe.

The survey, which included 5,451 union members working across primary, secondary and early years education, confirms that there is widespread concern over a lack of access to testing for teachers and students.

Commenting on the results, NEU joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said: “School and college staff are doing everything they can to keep schools open for all pupils, but the government is not pulling its weight.

“Our survey shows all too clearly that a lack of access to testing and the disruption of self-isolation, often due to the lack of a test result, is undermining the ability of schools to maintain fully-staffed on-site learning for all those who need it…

“This was completely foreseeable. A return to schools and colleges, matched with the opening-up of society, offices, and the movement of university students across the UK, was always likely to heighten the case count.

“Staff and pupils alike have been forced to self-isolate, or struggle to find a test to establish whether or not they should self-isolate. The government had months to prepare a fit-for-purpose test, track and trace system, and they failed.

“It is clear the government has completely lost the trust of school leaders, teachers and school staff. This is no surprise. Boris Johnson’s promises have regularly been exposed as bluster, while Gavin Williamson’s mismanagement not just of guidance to schools but also this year’s exams results has been dizzyingly poor.”

Kevin Courtney concluded: “The message from our members is clear. Schools kept their side of the bargain in getting schools open this September; it is time for the government to keep theirs.”

84% of teachers surveyed said they had no trust in the government’s ability to protect workers, listen to the profession, keep schools safe, manage next year’s exams or support vulnerable children.

80% of those polled by the education union also reported classroom absences due to self-isolating pupils or a shortage of tests, with 20% reporting “significant” absences as a result of the virus.

The polling revealed a lack of preparedness for the move to remote learning in schools. Only 54% of primary and 64% of secondary teachers reported that more than half of their intake was able to learn from home.

When asked what was needed to help keep schools open, 74% of the consulted teachers named prioritised access to and wider availability of coronavirus tests as the most important factor.

The NEU survey also saw 51% of respondents report that they had seen a “significant increase” in hardship for pupils or families in their school community since the start of lockdown in March.

It was predicted earlier this month by the Trussell Trust that UK destitution rates and food bank usage could double by Christmas as coronavirus support schemes have started to be wound down.

The survey results have been released on the eve of a special NEU conference that will focus on critical issues facing the profession, such as health and safety, workload pressures under Covid and 2021 exams.

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