Schools sector: Update for Fórsa members

Following Tuesday evening’s Government’s decision to postpone the limited reopening of special education provision, Fórsa’s Education Divisional Executive Committee met again yesterday afternoon (Wednesday) to consider the latest developments and the necessary next steps.

Your elected representatives re-emphasised to me that SNAs, who work so closely and diligently with students with additional needs, want to be able to return to work and resume these vital services as soon as possible.

The executive also acknowledged the overwhelming sentiment expressed by schools staff, who remain anxious and genuinely fearful about a return to the classroom.

This in conditions where the numbers of confirmed Covid-19 cases remains so high, and safety provisions for students and staff continue to fall short, despite the union’s recent success in winning improvements on childcare, PPE, and protections for pregnant staff and those over 60 or otherwise at high risk.

Your executive agreed on the urgent need to reopen talks with the education department with the objective of agreeing the measures necessary to improve protections for staff and students, and enable a phased return to school-based services as soon as staff and parents can be confident that it’s safe to do so.

To this end, we had informal contacts with senior education department officials yesterday evening, and I expect a re-engagement to begin today (Thursday).

It’s our intention to continue to explore realistic measures to improve safety provision and re-build confidence, just as we were doing prior to the Government’s Tuesday announcement. These will include issues like testing, school risk assessments and aspects of PPE provision.

We have made clear our professional assessment that this re-engagement is most likely to produce a timely and successful outcome if it’s conducted on a focused and professional basis, without a running commentary in the media.

To this end, Fórsa will continue to update members on any significant progress, but we will refrain from making media statements unless there is something substantive to report. I hope that other parties will take a similar approach, although we obviously can’t guarantee that.

SNAs and others working in SEN provision are more aware than most of the urgent need to begin the resumption of services. It remains Fórsa’s belief that this can and should be done in ways that underpin the safety of students, staff and others during this awful pandemic.

The union is determined to achieve this on your behalf, and for the good of the students and families you work with, day in and day out. We will keep you posted on developments, which I hope will come soon.

Andy Pike

Fórsa head of education