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MP highlights health and safety fears for prison educators as prison Covid cases jump

17 November 2020

Grahame Morris MP raised concerns from prison educators over management ignoring national guidance on Covid health and safety, with the Labour MP for Easington accusing some prisons of watering down national guidelines to keep educators in classrooms. The concerns were raised as the BBC reported there were more cases of Covid in prisons last month than the previous seven combined.

The government created new guidance to protect the health and safety of offenders and staff during the Covid pandemic, which includes specific restrictions on in-person teaching during high Covid threat levels. Last week the University and College Union (UCU) wrote to all prison providers and Her Majesty's Prison and Probation Service after prison educators reported concerns. The letter includes a number of measures providers must take to protect the health and safety of staff.

Speaking in parliament, Grahame Morris said: 'In prisons, I'm told that some governors have tweaked their exceptional delivery models to permit classroom-based education, despite national guidance that says this must not happen while Covid threat levels remain high.'

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'Staff in prisons are being failed by providers who have chosen to prioritise contractual provisions over staff safety. We are concerned that governors have changed national frameworks set out by government to protect offenders and staff during the pandemic, and ministers have not done enough to stop them. This is especially worrying as prisons have seen an unprecedented rise of Covid cases in the last month.'

'Time and again, prison educators are ignored, forgotten by prison governors and providers - that is always wrong, but to continue to neglect their safety throughout a public health crisis is completely unacceptable.

'UCU members are committed to playing their part in keeping staff and learners safe. However, their safety cannot be guaranteed if providers can loosen restrictions created to stop Covid spreading through prisons. Staff need to be reassured that any decision to return to in-person teaching will only be made once it is safe to do so.

'Ministers and providers now need to stop acting as if it is 'business as usual' - and put safety first.'

Last updated: 20 November 2020