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Support staff losing sleep and suffering anxiety ahead of return to school in England, says UNISON

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Jon Richards says delay needed so schools have time to complete risk assessments

Anxiety is widespread among school workers about their safety, their families’ and that of pupils ahead of a return to the classroom across England, says UNISON today (Thursday).

On the day unions are due to meet with education secretary Gavin Williamson, UNISON has published a catalogue of concerns from support staff who make up more than half the schools’ workforce.

Teaching assistants, catering staff, administrative workers, caretakers and other school employees have told the union they are being banned from wearing protective masks, denied gloves when handing packed lunches to parents and being spat at by children with behavioural issues.

These issues are among hundreds reported to UNISON’s PPE alert web page by support staff, including many who have continued to work in schools during the lockdown.

They also include accounts of having to buy their own hand sanitiser, parents failing to social distance when they visit and working without hot water in schools attended by the children of key workers.

In separate findings, a survey by UNISON based on responses from 12,781 support staff has found that three in ten (30%) are losing sleep, suffering high anxiety or both as a result of plans to open schools more widely in England. Only a small minority (4%) said that schools had adequate personal protective equipment (PPE).

The union is calling on ministers to make schools have enough PPE to protect staff, their families and the children they look after from the risks of infection from coronavirus.

UNISON head of education Jon Richards said: “Support staff are essential to schools running properly and they shouldn’t have to feel scared about doing their jobs.

“But it’s no wonder they feel anxious and are losing sleep – and that makes for worried parents too.

“Schools need much more time to complete their risk assessments and ensure that, wherever possible, support staff aren’t being made to fill in for teachers.

“Parents need their minds putting at rest that teaching assistants, catering workers and other support staff have access to all the masks and gloves they need. Or they simply won’t send their children back.

“A delay to the reopening plans will allow unions and government the space to work together to reassure staff and families in England that the return to school can happen safely.”

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