Boss of UK’s biggest teaching union tells 460k members to refuse to even talk about going back to class


ALMOST half a million teachers have been told to refuse even talking about returning to school next month by the boss of the UK’s biggest teaching union.

Boris Johnson is keen for schools to re-open their doors on June 1 with social distancing measures in place – but there are fears among unions this could be impossible to maintain.

Union bosses have warned it would be “impossible” to get schools ready for a June 1 reopening

Now the boss of the National Education Union (NEU) – the biggest teaching union in the UK after joining with the National Union of Teachers (NUT) – has urged 461,960 members not to engage with the plans until the government has issued more advice.

Joint General Secretary Kevin Courtney tweeted today: “Education unions intend to work together.

“Don’t engage with planning a June 1st return to wider opening – await further union advice.”

Teachers and some supply teachers are currently furloughed on full pay after schools were ordered to close under lockdown to stop the spread of the virus.

The PM has indicated year one and year six pupils could return to their education from next month as he set out his “road map” out of the strict measures.

But a number of union chiefs have expressed fears it may be too soon to reopen as social distancing will be difficult among young children.

General Secretary of The National Association for Head Teachers (NAHT) Paul Whiteman told the Education Select Committee today: “If social distancing is as we understand it now – the two metre rule to be applied in schools – there are very many schools that are saying it is simply impossible to achieve.”

He said making sure younger year groups stay at least two metres apart from each other and their teachers and practice good hygiene such as hand washing will be particularly difficult.


The Department for Education issued guidelines yesterday on how schools should enforce social distancing – including limiting class sizes to 15 students.

Schools are told to stagger lunch and break times, as well as drop-off and pick-up times, to reduce the number of pupils moving around at once.

It also said schools should look at bringing in a one-way system in corridors, or putting a divider in the middle to control the flow of kids.

Ministers admitted last night they cannot keep kids two metres away from each other all day, so each class will form a self-contained “bubble” so they don’t mix with other kids at the schools.

Boris Johnson said on Sunday night  reception, year 1 and year 6 would be the first students to return in June.

But the PM is facing a revolt from education unions who have demanded more clarity over how schools can realistically keep students and staff safe.

Mr Whiteman said: “Social distancing is a massive problem.”

But Mr Whiteman said even with just 15 students – it would be difficult to have social distancing in classrooms.

He said: “Our members are telling us that their building sizes on average would only accommodate classes of 10 to 12, rather than 15.

“So straight away we’re getting into some real practical difficulties about whether the Government’s ambition can be practically accommodated.

“Let alone all the fears that parents have about bringing their children back into school, and the fears of the workforce too.”

He told MPs there “isn’t enough understanding of the scientific basis” to instil confidence in parents that it was safe for kids to return to classrooms.

No10 said yesterday children would not be fined if they chose to keep their kids at home over concerns for their safety.

President of the Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) Jenny Coles said schools would at least five or six weeks to get ready for kids to be back behind desks safely.

She told the Committee: “Getting that parental confidence, in terms of a phased return to school, will need a lot of work by central Government, local communities and local government.

“This is not going to be something that’s going to be fixed by June 1. It’s going to take a lot of weeks and a lot of work to do that.”

Head of education at Unison, which represents school support staff, Jon Richards, also told its members not to make plans until there was a joint plan between the unions.

A poll from the NEU suggested that a third of parents do not immediately plan to send their children back to school once lockdown measures are eased.

The survey, of 1,000 parents found that nearly half (49%) said they would send their children back to school as soon as it reopens, but 33% said they plan to delay the return.

Health Secretary said this morning it was “completely natural” for parents to worry about sending their kids back to school.

He told ITV: “The reason we’ve said what we have is actually because homeschooling and telly schooling for five- and six-year-olds, in Year 1 and in Reception, is much harder.

“We do want to make sure that education is interrupted as little as possible. Also, childcare is much more difficult if you’ve got a five-year-old, six-year-old or a child in pre-school.

Paul Whiteman is the highest paid union boss taking home over £200k last year

Paul Whiteman told MPs social distancing at schools would be a challenge