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Local primary school teacher claims children are being used as 'guinea pigs'

Education officials have slammed the Government’s plan to reintroduce pupils into primary schools – calling it “totally unacceptable” and “laughable if it wasn’t so serious”.

A teacher at a primary school in the Diss Express area claimed that pupils were being used as “guinea pigs” and teachers as “cannon fodder”, ahead of a return to teaching next month.

Currently, only children of essential workers are allowed to attend school, but, from June 1, the Government wants reception, Year 1 and Year 6 children back in primary schools, albeit under strict social distancing measures.

In a letter sent to the Diss Express, a local teacher said that children were being used as 'guniea pigs' and teachers as 'cannon fodder'
In a letter sent to the Diss Express, a local teacher said that children were being used as 'guniea pigs' and teachers as 'cannon fodder'

In a letter sent to the Diss Express, the teacher, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “I was waiting with baited breath for Boris Johnson’s thoughts on opening schools. By the end of his speech, my head was reeling.

“I disagree strongly with the decision to use certain year groups as guinea pigs. It is going to be an incredibly hard job to get this right, but this is not right – there is no way on Earth that school settings can be Covid-secure.”

Schools are expected to make a number of changes, including reducing the size of classes to keep children in small groups, staggering lunchtimes, as well as drop-offs and pick-ups and increasing the frequency of cleaning.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson accused unions of 'scaremongering'
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson accused unions of 'scaremongering'

Secondary schools, sixth form and colleges will also look to provide some face-to-face contact with pupils in Year 10 and Year 12 to prepare them for exams next year.

The teacher, who also has a child of her own in primary school, added: “I am afraid not only for my own health and that of my family and colleagues, but also for the health of all the families who will be directly and indirectly mixing.”

“I wonder if the Government thought that, by sending only three year groups back, there would be plenty of extra staff to step in if staff become ill – isn’t this called cannon fodder?”

She also insisted that social distancing is neither possible nor conducive to a primary school environment.

“Does the government really think that children aged four to six can maintain a two-metre distance from their peers at all times?

“Most learning in the foundation stage is play-based and there is a strong emphasis on their social development through interaction with others,” she said.

“Younger children, in particular, will need personal care of some sort at some point – a plaster on a cut knee or a cuddle when they are upset – how will this work?

“I wonder how school staff can help a child to read a book from a distance of two metres.”

The teacher’s stance has been echoed by teachers’ unions, which have staunchly criticised the decision to start introducing more students into schools.

Paul McLaughlin, secretary for the Eastern Region of the National Education Union, claimed that the Government was failing to prioritise people’s health and, ultimately, lives.

He said: “The Government’s announcement on Sunday abandons the notion of social distancing in schools – it’s clearly uncontrollable.

“This herd scenario is a recipe for disaster – we know that children can be affected by this virus and, from a safety point of view, it’s totally unacceptable.

“Our members in Norfolk and Suffolk have been very clear that it shouldn’t happen in this form, and we believe the public at large and parents will think so, too.

“Life isn’t negotiable – of course, members want to go back to school as quickly as possible, but they are not going to do that if it means more deaths.

“If it wasn’t so serious, it would be laughable.”

In the House of Commons on Wednesday, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson (pictured) defended the Government’s plan, accusing unions of scaremongering.

He told MPs: “The reason that we’re bringing schools back is that we know that children benefit from being educated by their brilliant teachers in front of them.

“We recognise that children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds are the ones that are going to suffer the most if we do not bring schools back when we are able to do so.

“When you have medical and scientific advice that is saying that it is the right time to start bringing schools back in a phased and controlled manner, it seems only the right thing to do so, and the only responsible thing to do.”

In response to an opposition MP who brought up school unions’ criticism of the decision, Mr Williamson said: “Sometimes, scaremongering and making people fear is really unfair, and not a welcome pressure that is to be placed on families, children and teachers alike.”

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