Socialist Worker

Coronavirus outbreaks in schools means students and staff still at risk

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2721

Activists protest against an unsafe reopening of schools in east London before the summer

Activists protest against an unsafe reopening of schools in east London before the summer (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Over 100 school outbreaks of coronavirus had been reported across Britain by Friday of last week. They include 73 in Scotland, where schools began to reopen from mid-August.

The NHS confirmed that students have passed the virus between themselves in Glasgow schools. The “evidence of transmission” exposes Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon’s claim that a rise in cases is simply due to household visits.

Schools in England began to reopen on Tuesday of last week. 

By Thursday, five outbreaks had been recorded. By Friday there were 11. Hillsborough Primary School in Sheffield sent children and some staff home after a confirmed case in year 5 “bubble”. A “bubble” of students in the Chaucer secondary school in the city was “temporarily closed” after a confirmed case.

Dixons Kings Academy in Bradford recorded a positive case just days after reopening. There were two confirmed cases at another of the Dixons Academies Trust’s schools, Dixons Trinity Academy.

A spokesperson for the trust said, “Because the Dixons Academies traditionally start back earlier than most schools, we are experiencing what we expect will become the new normal.”

The news will add to fears among parents, students and teachers about the risks of full school reopening.

No cash for virus health and safety as schools open doors
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Weston Super Mare parent Frances told Socialist Worker, “The government’s handling of the pandemic has been a fiasco from start to finish. 

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

The Department for Education confirmed that schools and colleges will be sent just ten home testing kits. School workers report being short on hand sanitiser and masks. One north London primary school teacher said, “When I was in school in summer, we were already using watered-down soap as ‘hand sanitiser’.”

Grandparents are particularly fearful about the risks of an unsafe return to schools. Some have said they will limit contact with grandchildren because of the increased danger of virus transmission.

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

This says workers have a right not to work if they feel their health and safety is at risk.

And the NEU Left said union advice on what to do where there are cases in schools, including “escalating to industrial action ballots”, are vital. Frances said she had “no problem” with any school workers who refuse to return to an unsafe school.

How do we keep schools open and communities safe? NEU Left meeting Thursday 10 September, 6.30pm. bit.ly/NEULeft_September_10th

University union organises to stop unsafe reopenings

UCU union activists and others are organising to stop an unsafe return to universities and colleges.

It follows a report from the Independent Sage group of scientists last week that recommended university teaching take place online this term.

Elizabeth Stokoe from the group told a UCU zoom meeting last week, “US colleges are closing campuses with a rapid pivot to 100 percent online. In the UK, daily cases are rising.”

Ann Phoenix from the group pointed out that students can’t simply be kept in bubbles because they choose a range of different modules.

She added, “While students might be living on campuses or near, many members of staff cannot. That puts pressure on them to use public transport, often many different modes of transport.

“The more people there are on campus, the more cleaning there has to be. More people have to be there to service all the things that are part of the infrastructure of universities.

“I think that’s really problematic.”

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said precarious contracts mean staff often move between institutions. “You’ll have someone who works at Leicester, Derby and Coventry but lives in Birmingham,” she said. “What happens if that member of staff develops symptoms?”

NUS president Larissa Kennedy said students have “been sold a lie—that going back to normal is possible and safe”.


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