Socialist Worker

Students return to schools despite safety fears

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2721

Pupils across England and Wales are return to schools

Pupils across England and Wales are return to schools (Pic: Wikimedia)


Students have passed coronavirus between themselves in Glasgow schools, according to the NHS. The confirmation came after new outbreaks emerged in Lochend Community High School and Hutchesons’ Grammar School.

They follow a number of outbreaks in Scottish schools after students returned in the middle of August. One school in Dundee saw 27 positive cases and closed. The Glasgow schools remain open.

The NHS said there is “evidence of transmission of the virus” following the latest outbreaks. It exposes Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon’s claim that a rise in cases is simply due to household visits.

And it will add to fears in England about the Tories’ back to school plan.

Tories plough ahead with unsafe return to schools
Tories plough ahead with unsafe return to schools
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Children across England have begun returning to schools this week. The Tories claim they want everyone back so that students don’t miss out on education and vulnerable children have more support.

In reality they want to drive more parents back to work. And they are refusing to make schools Covid-safe.

Frances, a parent in Weston Super Mare, began a support thread on the Gransnet website “in solidarity with parents and grandparents”.

She told Socialist Worker, “The government’s handling of the pandemic has been a fiasco from start to finish.”

Frances said that her child’s school has been “brilliant” in offering support, but she is worried about the return to schools.

“I’ve got a 15 year old due to go back to school on Thursday,” she said. “I’ve got amazing respect for teachers. But I’m concerned about the resources that they don’t have.”

Worried

Frances is right to be worried.

One teacher on her thread reported on Tuesday, “Received my 10 testing kits today. As a reminder I have 2000+ staff and students, over 120 classrooms. I also received about 30 masks, some disposable aprons, 2x500ml hand sanitiser. What is the point?

“I’m told every school received exactly the same regardless of the number of pupils.”

Department for Education guidance confirms that schools and colleges will receive just ten home testing kits when they return. They are only to be used “in exceptional circumstances”. And there will be a “cap” on how many more schools can request.

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Tories want us to risk our health for their profits
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Testing kits aren’t the only thing running low. A primary school teacher in north London reported that her school had already run out of sanitiser.

“When I was in school in summer with the children of key workers, we were already using watered-down soap as ‘hand sanitiser’,” she told the Huffington Post.

“As the budget lessens there will be more pressure on parents to provide cleaning materials. All of this responsibility has been taken away from the government and put onto the individual.”

A south London teacher added that schools have “had to work out themselves” what to do in the event of outbreaks.

“There’s been very little – if any – practical help from the government or local authority,” they said.

“It wouldn’t take much for the entire system to topple.”

Communal areas

Joint NEU union general secretary Mary Bousted said Tory flip flopping over masks is another example of “devolving responsibility”. Boris Johnson last week said secondary school students in England should wear masks in communal areas in places of high infection rates.

This will be left to schools and parents to organise at short notice. For instance, Sheffield council this week advised that masks should be worn in communal areas and in corridors in all secondary schools, colleges and universities.

It said, “Face coverings should be provided by parents/carers, pupils, students and staff themselves.” It will provide an “emergency supply” of 100 masks “that DO NOT meet PPE standards” to each secondary school.

Bousted added that many school buildings are not big enough for students to socially distance.

“Secondary schools in England have a 90 percent occupancy,” she said. “It is almost impossible between most school corridors to have a one metre social distance. They’re too narrow, they’re too short.”

No cash for virus health and safety as schools open doors
No cash for virus health and safety as schools open doors
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Grandparents and other relatives with have health conditions are particularly nervous about the risk of children returning to unsafe schools.

One grandparent described how she collects her grandchildren from school and looks after them until their dad finishes work.

“My husband and I are late 70s and have done this for many years,” she said. “Now we are worried that the grandchildren may become carriers and bring the virus home.”

Some people won’t risk seeing grandchildren after schools return or will limit contact due to the increased risks of virus transmission.

“It’s pretty heartbreaking for us grandparents,” said one. “My daughter has suggested we meet in a park once school starts. It’s a good idea but how do you tell a four year old that she can’t cuddle you?”

Lie

The precautions that so many ordinary people are taking shows how the Tory lie that schools are safe is falling apart. Many people are seeing through what Frances called their “propaganda”.

“This is 1984 territory – it’s like the Ministry of Truth,” she said. “Parents are trying to do the right thing and get our kids back to school. But there’s a human side to this.

“The government is responsible for a lot of deaths.”

The NEU Left group has said that the union “is right to say staff could still use ‘Section 44’ to take immediate action on safety grounds”.

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This is a crisis of capitalism, not virus lockdowns
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Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act says workers have a right not to work if they feel their health and safety is at risk.

The NEU Left added that union letters to members “on dealing with cases in a school or a local spike – spelling out what needs to be done, and if not escalating to industrial action ballots – are vital to keep schools safe”.

Frances said she would support any school workers who refused to return to an unsafe school.

“I’ve got no problem with that – get the hell out of there,” she said. “A lot of parents are doing the right thing and protecting their kids. Parents shouldn’t be fined for not sending children back. We’re not going to have it.

How do we keep our schools open and our communities safe? NEU Left online meeting – Thursday 10 September, 6.30pm. Join at https://bit.ly/NEULeft_September_10th

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