Socialist Worker

Schools: a revolt is going on against Tory reopening plans

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2711

Patents and teachers protested last month against unsafe opening of schools

Patents and teachers protested last month against unsafe opening of schools (Pic: Guy Smallman)


The Tories’ plan to push big numbers of children back to school this month is failing.

For all the pressures on working class people caused by the lockdown, and Tory propaganda, millions have kept their children at home.

New government figures show that just over 12 percent of children in England were in education settings on 18 June, despite 92 percent being open.

The Tories wanted children in nursery, reception and years 1 and 6 of primary schools to return from 1 June. On 18 June, just over a third of children in year 6 were in school. It was the group with the highest attendance – yet some 66 percent remained at home.

In year 1, nearly three quarters had not returned. In reception, 71 percent remained at home.

And in early years, around 83 percent were absent. This is despite many parents fearing they would lose their nursery place if their child did not attend – or that their nursery may close altogether.

Education

There are similar trends in secondary education and for the children of key workers (see below).

Huge meetings of parents boost fight against unsafe schools opening
Huge meetings of parents boost fight against unsafe schools opening
  Read More

Parents and school workers want children back in schools when it is safe to do so. The lockdown is damaging millions of children who are losing out on education, missing friends, suffering mental distress and in some cases severe hardship.

But the Tories’ plan to get children back to school isn’t driven by a desire to alleviate any of this. If they cared about children’s welfare they could have taken measures to protect it.

They say they care about children’s education – after years of slashing school budgets. So where are the laptops and money to provide internet access for poorer children?

They say they care about children’s mental health – while cutting support services and forcing millions to grow up in poverty.

Food poverty has grown under the lockdown, yet the Tories have refused to increase child benefit or provide food vouchers for all parents. They only agreed to extend free school meals over the summer holidays after coming under sustained pressure.

We should not let real concerns about children’s wellbeing pull us behind a Tory agenda that has nothing to do with children.

Unions were right to say schools should not reopen until it is safe. While putting demands on the government over what education should look like when children return, we should keep insisting that their safety is the priority.

Report after report confirms that reopening schools too early risks a spike in the virus. And it will be BAME people and the poorest – stuck in overcrowded housing and with more health problems – who will pay the price.


Secondary schools shows similar pattern

The government wanted some students in secondary schools, sixth forms and further education colleges to return from 15 June. It focused on those in years 10 and 12, who have exams next year.

Government guidance says schools can have a quarter of year 10 and year 12 in at any one time.

In schools open to at least one of the year groups, around 15 percent of year 10s attended on 18 June and 14 percent of year 12s. An estimated 60 percent of settings were open to at least some students on that date.

The figures are based on a survey of 18,800 educational settings – around three quarters of the total. The report estimates that, due to the way attendance is calculated, it is underestimated by up to 2 percent in each year group.


What about the children of key workers?

Schools have remained open throughout the pandemic for vulnerable children and those with key worker parents. The figures found higher numbers from these groups in schools on 18 June than the week before.

Around 101,000 attending were classed as vulnerable, up from 83,000 on 11 June. And 405,000 were classed as having a key worker parent, compared to 344,000 on 11 June.

But this does not necessarily mean that more children in these groups have started going to school. Several school workers have reported that their head teachers are widening the definition of these categories.

This helps them push up the numbers of children in these groups and justify getting more into schools.

In any case, a minority are in school. The research estimates that just 13 percent of children with a key worker parent were in schools on 18 June. The figure for children with an Education, Health and Care Plan or a social worker was 22 percent.


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