School unions demand 'bin maps' and paintbrush cleaning wardens

School unions demand special ‘bin maps’, paintbrush and glue stick cleaning wardens and coronavirus counsellors in 169-point shopping list before teachers go back to work – as government warns parents it will cut off online classes if kids stay at home

  • Unions urge members to bombard head teachers with health and safety queries and refuse to mark work 
  • There are 169 or more questions that headteachers must answer before June 1, which critics say is impossible 
  • France has only 70 cases in 40,000 schools and nurseries over the past week as 1.4m children return to class 
  • Pressure is growing in the UK to send children back into classrooms but schools and council have said no
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Union chiefs have told teachers to demand full answers to at least 169 questions from their bosses on bin lids, tissue supplies and employing extra staff to clean paint brushes, scissors and glue sticks before agreeing to return to school, it was revealed today.

The National Education Union has also told its 450,000 members to stop marking work and keep online tuition ‘to a minimum’ for any children still at home and not to try remote teaching if ‘they feel uncomfortable’ about going back to the classroom.

The NEU’s gigantic list of demands includes mapped locations of lidded bins in classrooms and around the school, health and safety risk assessments for leaving doors and windows open while teaching and also asks: ‘What arrangements are in place to keep every classroom supplied with tissues?’.  

Other queries from the NEU include: ‘Have families been told to provide water bottles?’ and suggests grilling bosses about bringing in more staff specifically for washing ‘resources for painting, sticking and cutting before and after use’ in classrooms.

The NEU’s safety checklist has been hailed by teachers but critics have said the 22-page document is a ‘barrier’ to reopening primary schools in England from June 1 because it appears impossible to answer all the questions before then and spook headteachers fearing their own staff could sue.

Richard Marshall, the union’s Learning and Development organiser, tweeted last night that the number of ‘unanswered’ questions for its 450,000 members was more like 1,000, to which one teacher replied: ‘I can answer most of them with one sentence – use your bl**dy common sense’. 

Today a growing list of councils told their schools not to reopen on June 1, with Brighton, Eton and Teesside joining  Stockport, Bury, Liverpool and Hartlepool advising headteachers to ignore the Government’s request despite schools already reopening successfully in 22 states across Europe this month.

Former prime minister Tony Blair last night backed calls for pupils to go back to school, saying some children were receiving no education at all with Education Secretary Gavin Williamson insisting getting children back to school as soon as possible is vital for their development and prospects.

As millions of parents wait to hear if their children will return to school on Monday, it has also emerged:    

  • British teachers are today being urged to follow the lead of their French counterparts by going back to work and getting more than 1.4million children into class after two months in lockdown. 
  • Former prime minister Tony Blair weighed in and backed Boris Johnson’s calls for pupils to go back to school, saying some children were receiving no education at all;
  • Some schools have already ruled out opening and those planning to will halve class sizes to 15, clean tables and toys
  • Seven councils, mostly Labour-run authorities such as Bury in the north-west, have already ruled out reopening schools on time while Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham warned last night: ‘I worry it’s too soon’;

Scroll down to see the all the questions the unions want answered before June 1.

Schoolchildren wearing protective mouth masks and face shields back in class at Claude Debussy college in Angers, France

Teaching Assistant Sarah Yates applies tape to the floor to define a 2m boundary around the teacher’s workspace in Huddersfield as unions demand answers to hundreds of questions before teachers return

Answers to questions about bin locations, staff to wash paint brushes and scissors and counsellors for staff and children as the lockdown eases have been demanded

Teachers have been told by union chiefs that it will ‘not be safe to mark children’s books’. The National Education Union claims schools should make it clear that no marking should take place because of the risk of coronavirus.

Tony Blair BACKS Boris Johnson’s plans to reopen schools

Many significant figures in Britain, including former Prime Minister Tony Blair (pictured) have asked for UK schools to reopen as some children are not receiving any education at all

Tony Blair has said Boris Johnson’s administration is right to be opening schools again.

The Prime Minister’s plans to start sending children back to school next month has come under attack from teaching unions and some local authorities, with critics arguing it is too soon to lift the coronavirus-related lockdown restrictions.

Mr Johnson, in his address to the nation on May 10, said Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils would be the first to go back, starting on June 1 ‘at the earliest’.

In an interview with BBC Newsnight on Monday evening, Mr Blair said the Government was adhering to scientific advice by preparing schools to open their doors again.

‘They’re right, I think, to be reopening the schools,’ said Mr Blair. 

I don’t think they would say that they’re putting school opening above health risks. What they’re doing is basing it on the evidence, actually.

‘There are countries that have reopened parts, at least, of their school system.

‘If you look at all the best evidence and again, my institutes assembled a lot of the different data on this, it’s, especially for younger children, the risks of transmission are actually quite low.’  

It also says that library books should be regularly sanitised as part of a ‘workplace checklist’ for primaries.  

Referring to its 22-page checklist, it says: ‘The starting point for every component of the checklist is that it is checked NO until you and your colleagues determine it can be checked YES.

‘School staff will not be protected by social distancing rules nor, in most cases, will they be offered any personal protective equipment. If satisfactory answers are not forthcoming in all areas, then it will not be feasible or safe to extend opening until concerns are met.’

Among the questions the checklist poses are: ‘It will not be safe to mark children’s books during this period. Will clear instruction be given that no marking should take place and the books should not be taken to and from home/school?’

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair says that schools should return as soon as possible. 

Mr Blair told BBC Newsnight: ‘If you look at all the best evidence, and my Institute has assembled a lot of the different data on this, especially for younger children, the risks of transmission are actually quite low. 

‘Private schools will have been educating their children throughout this.

‘Parts of the state system will have been. But then there are some children who will have been having no education at all.’

Labour-run Bury council yesterday became the latest local authority to reject the Government’s timetable for sending children back to class. It joins Hartlepool, Liverpool and Stockport.

Cabinet minister Oliver Dowden refused to rule out penalties for town halls that refuse to reopen schools from June 1. 


The NEU instead is urging strict two metre social distancing measures remain in place – as is being done in other workplaces. The planning document also includes a 20-page safety checklist, written jointly with fellow unions, Unite, Unison and GMB, which it will urge its members to go through with bosses before they return to schools


‘Health and safety reps have the legal right to be consulted on the risk assessment and future amendments,’ the document states. Pictured right is a summary of checklist questions for representatives to answer, including: ‘Are you satisfied with the cleaning and hygiene arrangements that will operate from when extended opening begins?’


Pictured left are more steps from the summary of checklist questions for reps to answer. Right are questions for reps to ask about site preparation


‘Reps need assurances about the systems that the head teacher will be able to implement. Without these assurances there can be no ‘expectations’ on either staff or parents,’ the document states


The DfE is asking head teachers to undertake an audit of how many staff are available, both teaching and support staff


The document states: ‘The Planning Guide is explicit that ‘unlike older children and adults, early years and primary age children cannot be expected to remain 2 metres apart from each other and staff’



The unions have asked more than 100 questions of a headteacher, which it describes as a safety checklist


Reps are given guidance to ask if individual pupil risk assessments will be in place for all pupils who ‘exhibit anti-social behaviour, eg biting, before a decision is made’


The workplace checklist tells reps to ask about what guidance will be given to staff on how to support children – and will visitors be provided PPE where necessary

Blazenka Divjak, education minister of Croatia, which holds the rotating EU presidency, told European colleagues yesterday: ‘We haven’t heard anything negative about the reopening of schools, but it is probably too early to have final conclusions.’ 

She noted at the video meeting that schools had imposed ‘very high security conditions’ including smaller class sizes and very close cooperation with health ministries and epidemiological services.

She stressed the results needed ‘to be treated with caution’ as the return to normal life was in its very early stages.

UK officials say they hoped the evidence from other countries would reassure teachers.

A source at the Department for Education said: ‘We looked closely at international examples when drawing up our plans for a phased return.

‘These initial findings from European countries are encouraging and suggest that our similarly cautious approach will minimise the risk of transmission.’

The Government wants a phased reopening from June 1, with Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils going back first.

Professor Van-Tam said children were not ‘high-output transmitters’ of Covid-19. 

After querying the science behind the reopening decision, union bosses last week had a private audience with Chief Medical officer Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.

The NEU came away from the meeting saying its views were unchanged. 

Eight of his predecessors have backed reopenings and the Church of England said further delays could ‘affect the mental, spiritual, physical and social wellbeing of children’.

The bosses of 22 academy trusts have also warned how delays to reopening could cause irreparable damage to vulnerable children.

In a letter to The Times, the group said: ‘Since the lockdown, schools have exercised outstanding civic leadership.

‘We have remained open for key workers’ children; kept vulnerable children safe; delivered food parcels; taught online lessons; and kept in contact with pupils.

‘But for any child, prolonged absence from school is concerning. For disadvantaged pupils, it is calamitous. If we do not take action and reopen schools soon, the impact of lost learning could be irreparable.’

Steve Chalke of the Oasis Trust, which has 35 primary schools and is planning to restart on schedule, said: ‘The Government published its advice on reopening. The unions countered with their five tests, which they said were designed to create the necessary confidence for parents and staff.

‘Now the NEU have set out questions for teachers to ask their bosses, adding that if satisfactory answers are not forthcoming in all areas, then it will not be feasible or safe to extend opening until concerns are met.

‘The Children’s Commission has told them to stop squabbling and agree a plan. I agree. As a school leader, at this moment of crisis I need – as do all parents – cooperation and conversation rather than endless confrontation and conflict.’

Former education secretary Lord Baker said: ‘Teachers should go back to working a full day on June 1. Home-learning is favouring the “haves” and not the “have-nots”. Already two months of education have been lost and disadvantaged children will find it very challenging to catch up in a year – so, the sooner they return the better.’  

The June 1 date applies only to England; schools in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are expected to go back later in the year.

Kevin Courtney, the NEU’s joint general secretary, said: ‘The checklist is detailed because there are so many considerations to take into account when dealing with a school situation, particularly as we are looking at our youngest children going back first.

‘Teachers and support staff will be responsible for ensuring safe practices are implemented, as young children will not be able to do so themselves. Parents would expect nothing less.’

A DfE spokesman said: ‘We have engaged closely with the unions throughout the past eight weeks, including organising for them to hear directly from the scientific experts last week, and will continue to do so, including to develop further guidance if required.’  

Children of essential workers eat lunch in segregated positions at a school in Worcester, but many schools are expected not to open more fully on June 1

The French Government feared that children and their futures would be damaged without school for two months

Students wait outside Cassignol College before returning and resuming classes in Bordeaux, France – any child over the age of 11 must wear a mask

British teachers are being urged to follow the lead of their French counterparts by going back to work and getting more than 1.4million children into class after two months in lockdown.

Ministers across the Channel have revealed that they have had 70 cases of coronavirus in 40,000 schools and nurseries in the past 11 days and none of the children or staff are seriously ill.

It came as parents have been told that when English schools reopen children still at home are unlikely to get any more online learning materials until September, when it is hoped all pupils will return. 

Emmanuel Macron’s government agreed to open schools with their militant union chiefs having declared the country’s children must not be ‘the collateral victims’ of the coronavirus crisis.

The success of the back to school policy in France has been put down to a range of safeguards, including strict social distancing and use of masks, and will be examined closely in the UK where the Government is in an almighty battle with teaching unions over reopening schools in England on June 1.

And across the 20-plus EU states where schools are open again there has been no spike in cases with experts saying there is only a small risk to teachers, children and their families. 

The chaos in the education system means that millions of parents remain in the dark over whether their children in reception, year 1 and year 6 will returning to school in just 13 days time.

How has France got its children back into schools after lockdown? 

In France, the Government has decided:

  • Masks are compulsory for all school children over the age of 11 – anyone below that doesn’t have to wear one but will be provided with them if parents want them – or if they start showing any symptoms of illness;
  • Classes are not allowed any more than 15 children and only one child per desk;
  • Any school with a single case of coronavirus is closed immediately, the person is isolated and the areas cleaned before reopening; 

In France around a quarter of the nation’s school children have returned to class because they live in areas deemed less affected by the virus.

It was a similar story in Belgium where primary and secondary schools have been told to restart smaller classes of final-year pupils under strict social distancing rules.

Jean-Michel Blanquer, France’s education minister, said there had been 70 cases of coronavirus in around 50 schools since reopening.

A total of 70 schools were closed as a result, to stop further infection. ‘This shows that our measures are as strict as we said they would be,’ he said.

Schools forced to shut included seven in the northern town of Roubaix, where just one boy was infected but was thought to have come into contact with pupils from other schools.

He also insisted that children who had picked up Covid-19 had not caught it inside schools, where rigorous health measures are being enforced.

Mr Blanquer added: ‘It is absolutely essential that our children are not the collateral victims of health conditions.’

A 57-page education ministry document has been handed to teachers explaining rules on social distancing.

The 96 ‘departements’, or regions, of the country were initially split into the green, yellow or red categories two weeks before lockdown was to be eased across France on May 11.

By the time this date arrived, the yellow regions were allocated to either a green or red category.

Green areas were allowed to reopen their primary schools on May 11, as well as ending some other lockdown restrictions, while red areas have had to keep schools closed.

Around 185,000 middle school pupils in green zones also went back to class yesterday. Unlike in nursery and primary schools, all staff and pupils must wear masks. 

A girl wearing a face mask is pictured using hand gel from a dispenser as she arrives to school in Austria

Schools in Denmark (pictured) have reopened primary schools and nurseries and the number of coronavirus cases are in fact decreasing

Germany have opened schools for their older children, with some even taking examinations such as this biology class in Dortmund (above)

Schools in Belgium (pictured) have been maintaining strict social distancing guidelines in their classrooms 

Reopening schools across Europe has not caused a spike in coronavirus cases. Evidence from 22 EU states that have restored classes suggests little or no risk to pupils, teachers or families.

The revelation piles pressure on unions resisting plans to send younger children back from June 1. The National Education Union yesterday even claimed it was not safe for teachers to mark workbooks.

But an EU meeting was told that the gradual return to school had not resulted in ‘anything negative’. 

Denmark reopened primaries and nurseries a month ago and has seen infection rates continue to fall. 

Norway, which is outside the EU, has taken similar action without a rise.

Around 1.4million French pupils went back to class last week and of around 40,000 schools and nurseries only 70 were closed again following virus cases.

Germany has reopened schools for older children and plans to allow younger year groups back later in the summer term.

Alan Smithers, a professor in education at the University of Buckingham, said: ‘The unions have been asking for evidence, and this is it.

‘So they should start cooperating fully with the Government so that our schools can open again as soon as possible.’

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