Socialist Worker

Keep up fight on schools return

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2707

Trade unionists in Lewisham, south east London, demand no unsafe return to schools

Trade unionists in Lewisham, south east London, demand no unsafe return to schools (Pic: Guy Smallman)


The Tory plan to get many more children back into schools on 1 June has failed. It’s a significant setback for them—but the battle is far from over.

Boris Johnson wanted children in reception, year one and year six across England to return to school from Monday. But many councils and head teachers were pressured to decide it wasn’t safe.

Swathes of parents kept their children at home. 

Head teachers’ union leader Geoff Barton said up to 60 percent of children were absent in some schools.

Most reports suggest around one million of the two million children who could have attended did not go in.

That’s a tribute to the campaigning by parents, teachers, and trade unions. It shows we can defy the Tories.

And although small scale, some workers actively refused to return.

Ordered 

Rob, an NEU union member in Newham, east London, described how workers at a local primary school refused to go to work. “The head teacher had ordered everyone back,” he told Socialist Worker.

“People felt very nervous about refusing to go in. But once the decision was taken, it improved people’s confidence.

“There’s been a sharp increase in union activity and I think that has given members strength to act. It’s very inspiring.”

At a primary school in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, teaching assistants refused to return on Monday after joining the NEU the day before.

The Tories also want secondary schools to prepare for some face to face teaching before the summer holidays. At one north London secondary school, staff refused to attend an inset day on Monday.

‘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

One NEU member at the school told Socialist Worker, “It would have meant bringing 30 to 40 people together.

“So we said we’re not going to go along with that. 

The head pushed ahead, so we had a zoom meeting and agreed collectively not to go in.” Across Merseyside councils said there had been no wider reopening of any schools this week. 

The mayor of Tower Hamlets, John Biggs, publicly said there should be no wider reopening until 15 June. It followed a 500-strong parents’ meeting in the east London borough last week.

And a series of warnings about the risk of reopening schools led to many head teachers changing their plans last week.

A report from the Independent Sage group of scientists last week said reopening from 1 June risked “a new surge in cases of Covid-19”. Four of the government’s official Sage scientists also issued warnings about the plan.

Dropped 

NEU activist Jon described how every school across north Somerset subsequently dropped any plans to return on 1 June.

Rob added, “Just before half term, 20 schools were planning to open in Newham on 1 June. As far as I know only one opened for staff training.”

The shifts are a testament to the resistance that school workers and parents have mounted. But the battle is only just beginning.

A safe return to school should be decided by scientific advice and the state of the pandemic, not arbitrary dates. It will still probably be unsafe for schools to reopen wider on 15 June.

Tower Hamlets reception teacher Judy said that at least three workers at her school had already lost someone to Covid-19.

“A lot of children live with grandparents or with people who have health conditions,” she said. “There are huge levels of anxiety about schools reopening.”

Piers Roberts’ five year old stepdaughter Scarlett was hospitalised with an inflammatory disease linked to Covid-19. 

He told Socialist Worker, “We know the benefits of school for children’s wellbeing. We want schools to reopen—but when it is safe.” 

The Tories want more children in schools so they can force more parents back to work. We have to keep up the resistance to stop them gambling with our lives.


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