School workers reveal PPE fears ahead of school reopening

Just 4% feel they have enough protective gear

Children at school development centre

Only 4% of school support staff feel they have adequate personal protective equipment, a Unison survey has revealed.

Primary schools in England are set to open for Early Years pupils and those in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 on Monday.

But many teaching assistants, caretakers, catering and administrative staff are worried about their safety. Around 30% report suffering high anxiety or losing sleep over the return to work.

Many have been told they are not allowed to wear protective masks. One told Unison’s PPE alert page: “We’ve been told we can’t wear masks. But if a child has a first aid issue then we have to be close to that pupil to administer first aid.”

Many catering staff have been told they can not wear gloves. One said: “I have to hand over the lunches to the children’s parents each day and was told I cannot have gloves as they are a risk.”

Staff also said they were worried about being spat at by children with behavioural difficulties.

One teaching assistant said: “I’ve worked one-to-one with a pupil who on the first day spat at me. He’s aggressive and they’ve placed us in a small room together. My daughter has asthma – I’m so worried we considered sending her to grandparents until this is over.”

There also concerns over a lack of hand sanitiser with many staff having to buy their own to bring in to school.

Unison has been calling for the reopening to be delayed and is meeting Education Secretary Gavin Williamson today to discuss this.

The union’s head of education John Richards said: “Support staff are essential to schools running properly and they shouldn’t have to feel scared about doing their jobs. But it’s no wonder they feel anxious and are losing sleep – and that makes for worried parents too.

“Schools need much more time to complete their risk assessments and ensure that, wherever possible, support staff aren’t being made to fill in for teachers. Parents need their minds putting at rest that teaching assistants, catering workers and other support staff have access to all the masks and gloves they need. Or they simply won’t send their children back.

“A delay to the reopening plans will allow unions and government the space to work together to reassure staff and families in England that the return to school can happen safely.”

Joe Lo is a co-editor of Left Foot Forward

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