Socialist Worker

Tories try to justify an unsafe return to schools

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2717

Members of the Chicago teachers union on strike in 2012

Members of the Chicago teachers union on strike in 2012 (Pic: Spencer Tweedy via Flickr)


Boris Johnson has made it his “national priority” to get all children back to school next month regardless of whether it is safe.

In an interview with the Mail on Sunday newspaper, Johnson said ­reopening schools was a “moral duty”. “Social justice demands it,” he said.

But the Tory plan has nothing to do with justice. It is driven by a desire to push parents back to work.

Under their plans, children would return to schools and sixth forms in “bubbles”—some of which will include several hundred children.

The Tories claim this will minimise virus spread by limiting wider contact with others in schools.

But children will mix with each other on the way to school and at breaks.

Many households will have children going to different schools or in different year groups. So the bubble will break down as soon as they get home.

The Tories say their track and trace system means schools are safe. In reality, the system is in chaos (see below).

Reimburse

Chaotic and unsafe school reopening plan could burst the Tories’ bubble
Chaotic and unsafe school reopening plan could burst the Tories’ bubble
  Read More

And they are giving no money to schools for extra safety measures such as deep cleans. The Department for Education (DfE) says it has “no plans to reimburse additional costs incurred”.

Some say children don’t pass on Covid-19, to justify reopening schools. But while there is ­conflicting evidence, some research indicates that children do infect others.

A report from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control published last week said, “Children do become infected and, when symptomatic, shed the virus in similar quantities to adults and can transmit the disease as effectively as adults.” It said school reopening could be safe—if measures such as social ­distancing are in place.

Under the Tory plan, they won’t be. There is general agreement that a full school ­reopening will lead to more virus cases.

Sir Jeremy Farrar from the ­government’s Sage advisory group warned that Britain has reached “if not exceeded” the limits of easing restrictions. “We may not be able to reopen schools without introducing new restrictions elsewhere,” he said.

The Tories are gambling with our lives. But it is possible to resist.

In the US, the Chicago Teachers Union threatened to strike over plans to force students back to school. The authorities scrapped plans for an autumn return and agreed to ­continue remote ­learning as a result.

Unfortunately in Britain, some in the NEU union leadership seem too ready to echo the government.

Jerry Glazier from the union’s national executive committee told Channel 4 news, “We’re calling for all schools to open in September.”

Many children are suffering by being out of school. But it is the Tories who are to blame for refusing to make schools safe.

We need to urgently ramp up the fight to force them to do so—and resist any unsafe return to schools.


Schools open in Scotland

Schools in Scotland began to reopen to wider numbers of children this week.

Just one in five teachers in Scotland think the move is safe.

A survey of 24,000 teachers by the EIS education union found that only 3 percent were “very confident” that a return to school is safe.

EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said there is “a lot of anxiety” among school workers, parents and children.

He said plans to increase teacher numbers to enable smaller classes had been shelved to cut costs.

“We don’t accept that the science is saying teenagers are less likely to become infected or that they don’t transmit the virus,” he added.

“That view has been challenged by a number of studies.”

Flanagan added that if education workers felt their school wasn’t safe, the EIS “would be asking whether they would support a safety strike”.

“This is a serious health and safety issue and we do not want teachers placed at avoidable risk from the virus,” he said.


Test and trace system ‘failing’

Britain could see a second lockdown next month because of Tory policies, a former government adviser has warned.

“We need a proper test and trace system by September,” said Sir David King. “Otherwise full school reopening will put us right back.”

King said the current privately-run system involves “one telephone call and no follow-up”.

“The Serco contract is up for renewal this month,” he said. “They’ve had roughly £100 million so far. They’ll get £300 million if it’s extended. This is not working.”

King said the contract should be given to councils instead. Campaign group We Own It agrees and has urged people to pressure the Tories.

Test and trace figures for England, released last week, show how the system fails.

They show that 72.4 percent of close contacts of people who have tested positive for Covid-19 were reached in the week ending 29 July. This was down from 76.2 percent in the previous week.

Leaked information in July showed that the national tracing service reached just 52 percent of all close contacts.

Now some councils with high infection rates have launched their own contact‑tracing operation.

Blackburn with Darwen council in Lancashire and Calderdale council in West Yorkshire have, or are planning, their own teams.


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