Joint NEU Unison letter to Mayor John Biggs

We have just sent the email below to John Biggs, Mayor of Tower Hamlets. Please consider emailing him yourself at
Please do encourage members to sign up for our Zoom call on Monday at 5pm – we have 200 registered already

Dear John,

Thank you for taking the time to attend the parents Zoom meeting last night.

With over six hundred tuning in this was the largest meeting of its kind anywhere in the country, which clearly reflects a high degree of concern from the local community about the government’s handling of this crisis and their plans for schools.

We all wish the Government was able to command a consensus on these matters as the Government in Denmark has done. But so far the Government has not opened up to teachers, support staff, school leaders or their unions.

We do know the uncertainty and the pressure on school leaders is enormous as it is on staff in our schools.

At the moment we have a very mixed picture in Tower Hamlets and this is only increasing the anxiety amongst our members and parents and may lead to unnecessary conflict in some schools.

As we said at the meeting we acknowledge that the Council cannot instruct schools when to begin wider reopening, this is the case in any situation.

However, we strongly believe that a clear lead from the Council would be welcome by school staff and parents, and there are very good reasons for doing this. You cannot instruct schools, but you can advise them, based on what the evidence is telling us.

The Independent SAGE report published yesterday says:

“The most recent estimates for the UK are that R is between 0.7-1, meaning that all scenarios modelled by SAGE are at risk of pushing R above 1. The school reopening scenario chosen by the government is not one of those modelled by SAGE making the potential impact of reopening even more uncertain. Robust testing systems are not in place everywhere. Additionally, public adherence to social distancing is influenced by trust in the government and its messaging. This trust is increasingly strained.

“We therefore believe that by going ahead with a general school reopening from 1st June, the government is not following the advice of its SAGE group and is risking a new surge in cases of COVID19 in some communities.”

At the press conference Sir David King said, “We want to see (the testing programme) operationally tested for at least a couple of weeks.


In response to this report we believe that it would be a very reasonable step for any Council leader to advise schools to wait that couple of weeks so the level of Coronavirus has receded further and for the test and track programme to become embedded. We believe that such a step would go along way to reduce greatly some of the uncertainty and anxiety that currently exists.

We are aware that many Councils have issued advice along these lines, most recently Sheffield who have said that they do wish their schools to begin wider reopening until June 15th at the earliest in doing this the leader of Sheffield Council has said,”we have been advised by the Sheffield Director of Public Health that the recently announced “test and trace” programme will be sufficiently well established and robust enough to be in in place for June 1st. He has advised that the Test and Trace system should be in place and working effectively for 14 days before schools and nurseries begin increasing their numbers.”

Sheffield Council is no different to Tower Hamlets either in its ability to have an effective track and trace system up and running next week or in its ability to instruct schools what to do.

Therefore, we are writing to you to request that you make a public statement supporting our position that, based on the evidence from Independent SAGE and the need to have effective test and trace in place, June 15th is the earliest date on which schools should begin wider reopening.

We would be willing to negotiate a coordinated return to schools on the basis of such a statement.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Best wishes,

Alex Kenny (NEU) and John McLoughlin (UNISON)

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