GAVIN Williamson has demanded teachers "do their duty" and return to work next month as a union threatened to SUE headteachers if staff are not safe.
A row has erupted between hardline union chiefs and the government over their decision to reopen schools from June 1 amid fears young children could spark a deadly second wave of coronavirus.
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The Education Secretary tonight insisted kids need to start returning to the classroom in the "interests of their welfare and education".
Mr Williamson wrote in the Daily Mail: "Parents are doing a fantastic job helping children learn at home, but nothing can take the place of a teacher."
And he urged unions to do their "duty" and stop trying to block plans to reopen schools, adding: "All of us in education have a duty to work together to get children back to school."
But NASUWT – the UK's second largest teachers' union – has now threatened to sue if teachers are "expected to go into a school that is not safe".
The union, which represents around 300,000 members, has warned teachers will legally be able to refuse returning to the classroom if they do not get the same level of protection as other frontline staff.
A letter signed by general secretary Patrick Roach and seen by The Guardian threatens to delay the June 1 start date as it has "fundamental concerns" over guidance issued by the government over protective measures.
It reads: "Stringent guidance has been issued for the NHS, for care homes and for employers across the UK. It is unacceptable that this has not been the case for schools.
“The NASUWT believes that teachers and other school staff have the right to the same consideration and protections, and to be confident that their health and welfare, as well as that of pupils, is at the heart of any planning for wider opening.”
The union says it has been forced to warn local authorities and the government they risk legal action for “breach of duty of care and personal injury due to foreseeable risk, and any other legal recourse available” if teachers are made to return to work.
Tensions have been brewing between militant union chiefs and ministers over whether children will be safe at school as they will struggle to practice social distancing.
Some critics have argued younger pupils could spread the disease in the wider community and cause a second wave of the bug.
But the government has admitted children "cannot be expected to remain 2 metres apart from each other and staff" and are implementing a number of guidelines to keep schools safe.
Labour grandee David Blunkett today weighed in on the row and launched a blistering attack on unions and accused chiefs of making parents too “frightened” to send their kids back to class.
The ex-Education Secretary said he was “deeply critical” of teaching unions hell-bent on torpedoing the plan to gradually reopen schools from June 1.
He warned that it is the poorest kids, who don’t have the highly educated parents or expensive tutors, who will suffer most.
And he took a swipe at Labour who have also been hostile to reopening schools – telling them his advice would be to “work together from June 1 to get those children back into school”.
Lord Blunkett fumed: “I am being deeply critical of the attitude. It is about how can we work together to make it work as safely – we can't 100 per cent – as safely as possible.
“Anyone who works against that in my view is working against the interests of children.”
He praised teachers who have carried on teaching disadvantaged kids and the offspring of key workers throughout the lockdown.
But he warned the hardline stance of the National Education Union will only harm the life chances of the poorest kids who need the classroom the most.
He pointed out that NHS, social care and supermarket staff have all kept working, with precautions, through the crisis, and now was the time for teachers to get schools back up and running.
Ministers want to gradually bring back schools for primary pupils and Year 10s and year 12s from June 1.
But unions have vowed to crush the plan, and have warned classes may not come back until September.
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, furiously hit back at Lord Blunkett’s fiery takedown.
She said: “The NEU absolutely has the interests of children and young people at the heart of all we do.”
And she stressed that teachers want to see a return to schools but “the Government cannot provide evidence that it is safe to do so it is reckless to rush into any such plans”.
She added: “This is not just for the safety of teachers, children and their parents and families but for wider society.”
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