Ipswich MP Tom Hunt in clash with unions over reopening some schools

Tom Hunt at the Education Committee. Picture: HOUSE OF COMMONS

Tom Hunt at the Education Committee. Picture: HOUSE OF COMMONS - Credit: Archant

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt has clashed with union leaders over getting pupils back to school after the coronavirus lockdown during a meeting of the House of Commons Education Select Committee.

Mr Hunt is a member of the committee and, during its meeting this week, said that unions had worked to obstruct government efforts to get children back in schools. He was particularly critical of Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NAS/UWT over comments he made in May about schools not being able to reopen this month.

Mr Hunt said: “The perception many people have in this country is that the teaching unions have actively obstructed the reopening of schools ahead of September. Frankly you can’t blame them, Patrick, when you made the comment on May 7 that the government should rule out any phased return of schools ahead of September.

“You said: ‘In view of the pressing and continued public health challenges and the considerable task that would be required to ensure that every school was ready to admit increased numbers of children and adults into safe learning, the NAS/UWT urges ministers to act firmly to end speculation that schools should open beyond current restrictions prior to September 2020.’”

He said that showed the unions were not committed to get schools open as soon as possible.

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Dr Roach said: “I stand by that quote about ending speculation because quite frankly it would have been much more helpful than not for government to have been clear about what its intentions were around the return of schools and to be signalling that quite clearly.”

He said the speculation had caused great anxiety among both people working in schools and among parents – but it would be wrong to say his union had blocked reopening plans.

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Dr Roach was being questioned by the committee alongside Dr Mary Bousted from the NEU and officials from UNISON and the Association of School and College Leaders.

Addressing education unions, Robert Halfon, chairman of the committee, added: “Why is it that children and parents can have access to Primark over the next few months, but many of them won’t have access to schools according to your risk assessments?”

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