• Sofia Eugeniou

COVID-19: Plans to reopen English schools must address risks to BAME staff and pupils

Updated: Jul 9, 2020

During the government-enforced lockdown schools across England have had no other choice but to offer a limited curriculum online, relying on parents and guardians to supervise work.

Secondary schools in England have been allowed to reopen for Years 10 and 12 since 15 June, and the teaching of vulnerable children and those of critical workers in all year groups will continue.

Due to local council advice and a lack of means for certain schools to reopen safely for students, some schools have not reopened.

While the reopening of classrooms in the UK is happening in a phased process, plans by the Prime Minister to reopen schools more widely in the coming months pose particular problems for members of the BAME community.

Image credit: @lioneltop/Twitter

Patrick Roach, the general secretary of the teachers' union NASUWT, called on Boris Johnson to ensure that the government's approach to reopening England's schools will address the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on black and minority ethnic people.

With early figures of COVID-19 showing that 35 percent of almost 2,000 patients in intensive care units were black or from another minority ethnic background - and also considering BAME people make up only 14 percent of Britain's population - it is understandable that a sense of fear and anxiety now exists among many BAME teachers.

Roach has also criticised the government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies for its failure to address ethnicity in their recently published report that analyses the risks posed by reopening. The general secretary for NASUWT, said: "We can't have a color blind approach to the relaxation of the current rules to protect against this major public health crisis".

Many parents from BAME backgrounds are denying their children the return back to school because of concerns on the disproportional impact on them as ethnic minority parents if their child were to contract the virus and bring it home.

BAME staff and pupils deserve to know what risks they face, just how vulnerable they are, and how state education will address and combat the issues at hand.

With the government's coronavirus track and trace failure, the NASUWT is understandably dissatisfied with the government's current route to use this as a robust method to reopen schools.

Sue Harte, the headteacher of John Stainer community primary school in Brockley, south-east London, has decided not to reopen the school, saying she had received no information about test, track and trace. Harte commented on the matter by saying: "I honestly have got no sense of where the government are with that".

It is vital that schools are sensitive to the needs and concerns of BAME staff, pupils and parents. Measures must be considered and put in place to address them.

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