Communities secretary Robert Jenrick has refused to say whether teachers will be penalised if they choose not to go back to work next month amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The government wants Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils to start returning in smaller class sizes from 1 June at the earliest.
However, Number 10 has suggested this won’t be compulsory, with Boris Johnson’s spokesman saying on Monday that parents who keep their children at home will not be punished.
Jenrick, leading the government’s daily coronavirus press conference in Downing Street, was asked if teachers, like parents, will not be penalised if they refuse to return to work.
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However, he didn’t answer the question. Here was his response:
“The education secretary [Gavin Williamson] is working very closely with the trades unions and teaching professionals to ensure they are comfortable and have sufficient guidance to return to the workplace.
“Many teachers have been working in those schools that have remained open, ensuring the children of key workers and vulnerable children are given schooling during the lockdown, and we are very grateful to those teachers for doing that.
“But we are going to keep on working with the trades unions to provide as much comfort as we possibly can, with a view to getting schools open as quickly as possible and towards the timetable the prime minister set out at the weekend.”
Earlier on Wednesday, education unions called on the government to “step back” from its plan to begin re-opening schools next month, citing staff safety concerns.
In a joint statement, the AEP, GMB, NAHT, NASUWT, NEU, NSEAD, Prospect, Unison and Unite unions said “we do not know enough about whether they [children] can transmit the disease to adults”.
The unions said: “We do not think that the government should be posing this level of risk to our society.”
Williamson told MPs that all teachers and pupils will be able to be tested for COVID-19 if they develop symptoms when they return to schools.