THE government is being urged to protect school staff in Hampshire amid claims that social distancing is “very difficult”.
Trade unions said Hampshire school staff are worried as children find social distancing “very difficult” and staff end up being in “close contact” with pupils.
Union bosses said staff in Hampshire schools are facing a “too high risk” and feel they do not have “adequate protection”.
The news comes as a national lockdown will begin on November 5 but schools will remain open.
The government said the risks to children’s education and well-being from not attending school outweighs any other risks.
But some trade unions are calling for colleges and schools to close during lockdown while others are asking for further support including smaller bubbles and the reintroduction of shielding.
Union bosses said most of the concerns in the Hampshire County Council area have been raised by teaching assistants and classroom support staff in primary and secondary schools.
Callum Williamson, branch secretary at Hampshire Unison, said: “It is very difficult for these children to social distance so they come in close contact with staff. Particularly if these children have particular needs. It is almost every day we are hearing from members who are in schools and are worried about their safety at work due to Covid.”
Mr Williamson said most of the complaints come from clinically vulnerable staff and are expected to increase over the coming weeks.
It comes as according to the county council there have been 133 coronavirus cases across its 534 schools since September. Of these cases, 114 were recorded in October.
Karen Williams, joint branch secretary at the Hampshire State Education Branch of the National Education Union (NEU), said: “Members are concerned about the reality of social distancing. Without fewer pupils in a class, or more rooms, feedback from members suggests that many believe they cannot carry out their job effectively at two metres, and are approaching children more closely than this. This is taking place in classroom settings where masks are not worn and where ventilation is often inadequate. Without increased funding, schools will struggle to address these issues, and many of our members feel that they do not have adequate protection against an airborne virus.”
Ms Williams said many clinically vulnerable Hampshire school staff are getting in touch with the union as they do not feel safe.
“Last lockdown these workers were recognised as needing extra protections within a period where schools were only open for a limited number of pupils – now they are expected to work in schools which are open to all pupils, with the usual numbers in the usual-sized classrooms,” she added.
She also said there are concerns about pupils mixing across bubbles on home-school transport, and in their own families and communities.
Union leaders are calling for the reintroduction of shielding and further financial support for schools.
They are also asking the government for increased support for home working for staff, more investment in infection control measures, increased use of PPE and consideration of wider use of face coverings as well as “an effective test and trace system”.
NEU has also launched a campaign to close schools and colleges as part of England’s lockdown.
Cllr Roz Chadd, executive member for education and skills at Hampshire County Council, said the Government has issued “extensive guidance” about the measures that schools should put in place.
She added: “We fully understand that staff may feel anxious and we encourage them to talk with the school’s leadership to ensure their concerns are listened to and that, where possible, additional measures are put in place to address those concerns.”
The government said school employers and leaders are required to minimise the risks “recognising they cannot completely eliminate the risk of coronavirus”.
A Government spokesperson said: “Schools have put in a range of protective measures, endorsed by Public Health England, to reduce the risk of transmission. The Chief and Deputy Chief Medical Officers have repeatedly confirmed children do not drive infections in the community in the same way as with other infections like flu. Their assessment remains the risks to children’s education and wellbeing from not attending school outweighs any other risks.”