A union has threatened to “name and shame” colleges that are “not doing enough” to keep staff and students safe from Covid-19.
The University and College Union has today launched a new system to allow its members to directly relay their fears about institutions’ “failings”.
The union said the action was prompted after it was revealed that the Department for Education does not hold information on the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in schools.
While a “lack of clear guidance” from the government had not helped matters, UCU insisted that colleges could not “hide behind the failings of ministers” and had to “demonstrate their commitment to keeping people safe”.
The union cited data released by Downing Street last week which showed the infection rate among 17 to 21 year olds – the main age group found in colleges – is at 50 in 100,000 and increasing sharply.
UCU members will now be encouraged to complete questionnaires about their college’s plans if someone is taken ill on campus or how a college would shut down in the event of an outbreak.
The union will also seek greater information about testing systems in place and will also demand to know what support there will be for staff and students who need to self-isolate.
Earlier this week, ministers were warned that a lack of testing could force schools in England to grind to a halt because students and staff would have to stay at home following a suspected case.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “The evidence suggests that colleges and universities will be hit with further Covid outbreaks and any institution not preparing for how it deals with one is in denial and failing staff, students and the wider community.
“We have already seen warnings that schools could be brought to a halt due to a lack of testing. We want to know what plans colleges and universities have for testing, details of their risk assessments and how they will protect people in the event of an outbreak.
“We accept that guidance from the government has not been up to scratch, but colleges and universities cannot hide behind the failings of ministers. They must step up and do the right things to protect their communities.
“We will be monitoring what comes in from members and will name and shame institutions that are not up to scratch. Our main objective is to help avert a preventable public health crisis. But if our members are concerned with how their college or university is behaving we will back them if they vote to move into dispute, which could result in ballots for industrial action.”