Socialist Worker

Workers, parents and students unite to fight dangerous schools reopening

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2706

Campaigners are launching a fightback

Campaigners are launching a fightback (Pic: Despina Karayianni/Facebook)


The Tories’ plan to start reopening schools from 1 June looks “increasingly unlikely” to take place. That’s according to a furious article in the Daily Mail newspaper.

More councils have said they won’t reopen schools on 1 June—even one run by the Tories.

Brighton and Hove, Slough, Teesside, Stockport, Bury, Liverpool, Hartlepool, Wirral, Calderdale, Enfield and Birmingham councils all oppose the Tory plan. Tory-run Solihull has also rejected it.

Others have expressed concerns. Some have said it will be up to individual schools to decide when to reopen to wider numbers of children.

The government’s plan to get schools reopened so it can push more people back to work is looking shaky. Action by school workers, parents and others on the ground will be key to defeating it.

This week around 20,000 NEU union members joined a zoom call to discuss the plans—the biggest ever online union meeting.

Over 3,000 people joined a virtual rally against the Tory plan on Tuesday, hosted by the NEU, NASUWT and Unison unions in Wirral.

Local 17 year old student Eleanor said she “completely understood” why exams had been cancelled. “I cannot emphasise enough how stressful it is for my age group,” she said. “Fourteen years of study for someone else to decide my future.

‘We can teach the Tories a lesson’—school workers, parents and students speak out over unsafe return to school
‘We can teach the Tories a lesson’—school workers, parents and students speak out over unsafe return to school
  Read More

“However I feel that if schools were to be reopened that decision to cancel exams would be pointless and the upheaval that children faced, including myself, meaningless.”

Right wingers claim that school workers are putting their interests above those of children.

But as Dave Jones, branch secretary of Wirral Unison, said, “This is not about school staff and unions versus parents and pupils. We stand united with parents.”

A survey of nearly 30,000 NASUWT members found this week that just 5 percent thought it was safe to return from 1 June.

Some 95 percent said they were anxious about reopening, and 91 percent were not confident in government measures to protect health.

Big numbers of parents also oppose the government plan and will refuse to send their children back.

Hull parent Samantha Moore, whose son is in year one, said she would keep him at home until death rates from coronavirus come down. “I don’t like the look of the new classrooms with the tape,” she said.

“They say it affects their mental health not going back, but no one thought of how it affects children going back, not being able to hug their teachers or their friends.”

But opposition to the Tories is sparking a furious backlash from the right. Some are demanding more attacks on unions.

Powerful

An article on the Conservative Home website on Wednesday talked of the need to overcome the “intransigence” of “powerful teaching unions”.

“There is unfinished business in education reform,” it threatened. “The practice of the public sector collecting trade union membership subscriptions via payroll (the ‘check-off’) system should be completely ended—for teachers and others.

“It gives the impression there is official approval—or even a requirement—for union membership.”

The article also argued for scrapping nationally agreed pay and conditions for teachers.

On the same day, Sarah Vine wrote in the Daily Mail newspaper that “we have to reacquaint ourselves with risk”. “None of us can cheat death,” she added.

The newspaper’s front page read, “Callous teacher union’s plotting exposed.” Its big “expose” referred to the 20,000-strong NEU zoom meeting—which is publicly available.

NEU joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said, “The Daily Mail is seeking to divide.

“The concerns we have are widely shared across education and beyond. All of us lose out if schools move to wider opening at a time that’s unsafe.”

Resist

At a meeting on no unsafe return to school or work on Wednesday evening, speakers explained why school workers are right to resist.

NHS nurse Libby said that school workers fighting an unsafe return had “got the health workers I know behind you”.

“We will be with you in this fight,” she said.

Parent Obaida said that if schools opened to wider groups of children “the school environment will get riskier for children of key workers”.

“If year 6 go back now, their last memories of primary school will not be normal,” she added. “My children are not guinea pigs.”

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn gave “a big thank you to all the teachers for all they’ve done and all the other workers in the schools”.

“I support the NEU in its brilliant and robust defence of its members,” he said. “We should be supporting the teachers. There should not be a return on 1 June to schools unless the NEU tests have been met.”

Unfortunately Labour’s current leadership hasn’t shown the same clarity. 

Labour leader Keir Starmer has spent weeks calling for the Tories to spell out plans to end the lockdown sooner. And he said schools should be among the first places to reopen as the lockdown is eased.

It’s good that more councils—and head teachers—are pledging not to reopen schools wider on 1 June. More should be pressured to do the same. But many schools are ploughing ahead with plans to begin reopening from 1 June.

We can’t rely on individual councillors, MPs and head teachers to beat the Tories. And there’s a question mark hanging over schools, nurseries and other settings that aren’t run by local authorities.

The government and their mates in the media will throw everything they have into forcing through a return to “business as usual” over the next week. We have to throw everything into beating them.

Day of action: We stand with schools: no return until it’s safe, Thursday 28 May, Hosted by People Before Profit: Health Worker Covid Activists. Details here

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