Trade unions and sector representative bodies have combined forces to call on the government to prioritise education staff in the second phase of Covid-19 vaccinations.
The organisations, including the Association of Colleges, the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, Sixth Form Colleges Association and the University and College Union, have today co-signed a letter to health secretary Matt Hancock, education secretary Gavin Williamson and vaccinations minister Nadhim Zahawi.
It comes after FE Week reported a growing opinion among college leaders that further education staff ought to be prioritised for the jab in order to fully reopen safely.
The letter asks ministers to “urgently consider raising the priority level for all staff in early years, school, college, adult education, and independent training provider settings to receive the Covid-19 vaccination”.
It goes on to outline the case for prioritising education staff in the second phase of vaccinations, which will start once care home residents, frontline health and social care workers, extremely clinically vulnerable people, and all those aged over 70 are vaccinated by around the spring.
“Fully reopening education settings is a national priority, the moment it is safe to do so,” the letter highlights, adding that learning often takes place indoors, in close contact, with large numbers of students in multiple groups, which puts staff “at high risk of both catching and transmitting the virus”.
Prioritising them for vaccination, combined with mass testing, “would be a sure way to reduce transmissions, remove any further disruption to the education of our young people and to support the resumption of economic activity by reducing the burden of home schooling on working parents”.
The letter further suggests a sub-group of education staff – those working in early years, specialist settings and those whose role involves elements of health care and very close contact – should be the first of their number to be vaccinated.
Association of Colleges chief executive David Hughes said: “The strength of feeling from all voices within the education sector on vaccinating teachers and education staff could not be clearer.
“Today’s letter is a sign that prioritising vaccinations for teachers and staff who work in education is the best way to support the national effort to reopen all education settings as soon as it is safe to do so.”
University and College Union general secretary Jo Grady said: “The government was right to belatedly move teaching online at colleges last week as part of the new lockdown.
“But college staff and students have too often been treated as an afterthought during the Covid pandemic.
“Any safe return to in-person teaching in colleges must include a commitment to prioritise offering the vaccine to college staff.”
The letter has been signed by the AoC, ASCL, AELP, HOLEX, Landex, Natspec, SFCA, Early Years Alliance and GMB UCU, Unison, Unite and NEU.