Making Schools Safe

We want to see schools reopen - but only when it's safe to do .  

Making Schools Safe

Monday 1 September 2020

You can read our latest FAQs on making the return to schools this month safe here:

GMB Schools Safety FAQs

Wednesday 20 May 2020 

The government have announced plans to phase in a wider opening of primary schools from 1 June, starting with nursery, reception, year 1 and year 6.  

The government has further stated that it aims for all remaining primary children, plus year 10 and year 12 students to return to school for up to four weeks of the summer term. 

The statement has caused a great deal of concern amongst GMB members about safety for pupils, staff, and their families. 

There remain a large number of unanswered questions on issues such as provision of PPE, testing, social distancing and contact tracing.   

We want to see schools reopen - but only when it's safe to do .  

The protection of those we look after comes first. 

The latest information for members in schools

GMB members need to feel satisfied that risks of exposure to Covid-19 can be carefully managed and controlled. For these reasons your union the GMB is demanding that the government publish the evidence that has led to the decision-based on expanding the phased re-opening of schools.  

GMB demands safe work systems are in place across schools before the wider reopening. Only then staff can get on with their job educating pupils without having to worry about safety.  

On Friday 15 May, GMB, along with other education unions, met with Professor Chris Whitty the Chief Medical Officer, Sir Patrick Vallance the government’s Chief Medical Advisor, and other government scientists and members of SAGE (Scientific advisory group for emergencies) to discuss the risks of Coronavirus transmission by children and the science behind the proposals to widen the opening of schools from 1 June. 

GMB asked the following questions on behalf of schools members: 

‘What evidence do you have that younger children cannot transmit the virus as easily as adults can and therefore do not pose a significant risk to adults in schools, families and the wider community?’ 

‘Would you agree that PPE would be beneficial for staff working closely with children, for example providing first aid and administering medication?’ 

‘You have mentioned data about risks to the teaching profession. But not other school staff who will be providing the physically closest care for young children. Why not?’ 

Whilst the meetings were very useful and welcomed by the unions, there remain many unanswered questions and unsatisfactory responses to our concerns which means that GMB, along with the other unions, do not feel satisfied that our members can yet be assured that their safety is paramount. 

GMB’s position is 1 June is a wholly unrealistic return date and we will continue to oppose the large increase to pupil numbers from that date. 


The following are some of GMB’s key concerns: 

  • A failure of the government to provide clear evidence about the virus transmission risk from pupils and staff. We consider that the latest research has been conducted on an unacceptably small sample group and this undermines the reliability of the results.

  • The government has yet to meet the unions’ safety tests. 

  • The government scientists acknowledged that they have yet to meet their own 5 key tests. 

  • Many support staff come from BAME backgrounds and are in older age brackets putting them at a higher risk. 

  • GMB does not consider that it is possible to maintain social distancing in schools and nurseries. 

  • The government's guidance to schools on PPE is wholly insufficient! We cannot have staff put in a situation where they face an uncontrolled risk to their health that they could pass on to their families and communities. 

  • The government has failed to demonstrate a workable testing, tracing and isolation strategy. It needs to do so before increasing pupil numbers. 

  • There are increased risks posed by pupils, parents and staff travelling on public transport and gathering at school gates that have not been addressed 

  • We hold concerns that DfE guidance will be interpreted to mean that schools can deploy support staff to other roles that they are not trained, experienced and paid to do. 

  • The guidance encourages schools to use support staff to fill the gaps if there aren’t sufficient teachers. This would create the potential for support staff to be. 

What is the government saying now?

We are pleased that as a result of representations made by the GMB and other education unions that the Department for Education (DfE) officials are now saying that the June 1st date was ‘aspirational’ and was a ‘from’ date rather than an ‘on’ date. They add that the guidance being provided was ‘non statutory’ and that employers should engage with unions locally and nationally regarding a wider cohort of pupils in schools and should continue to follow the NJC circulars guidance as they normally would. 

What is GMB doing?

  • We have produced model letters for members and branches to send to employers / head teachers, so that staff should not be pressurised to return by their employers until it is safe and that return plans are agreed wit hunions. The model letter for members can be found lower down this page

  • We will continue to encourage education unions to work together locally as well as nationally to agree plans. 

  • We encourage branches to begin to work with employers to discuss plans on the understanding that 1st June is not possible and that more time is needed. Branches should also remind employers that members have rights to be safe at work and protect themselves under Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996.   

  • We have produced a model Covid-19 Secure Checklist for risk assessment with other unions to support local discussions – this can be found here

  • We have produced a model Covid-19 Secure Checklist for risk assessment with other unions to support local discussions – this can be found here.

Risk Assessment Checklist

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