Socialist Worker

Schools are major spreaders of coronavirus—but Tories keep them open

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2730

Boris Johnson says children have to go to school - even when its not safe

Boris Johnson says children have to go to school - even when it's not safe (Pic: Number 10/Flickr)


The Tories are risking lives by keeping schools and colleges open—and are undermining the latest coronavirus lockdown.

The Sage group of ­scientists said that a lockdown with schools and colleges open could significantly cut the R number in nine weeks. Yet closing them could achieve the same drop within three weeks.

R measures how many people someone with the virus will infect. 

The NEU union has said that schools and colleges should close as part of the lockdown. Some 2,600 people joined the union last weekend, following its call.

Now activists are fighting to make their workplaces safe. 

Jean Evanson is an NEU rep at Shrewsbury Sixth Form College group and the post‑16 rep on the NEU’s national executive committee. 

She told Socialist Worker, “We are in the second wave of a pandemic that is deadly to some and leaves others with long term health problems. 

“Sending clinically extremely vulnerable staff to work from home isn’t enough. We need to protect life. That entails including education in the current lockdown.” 

Jean also argued for rotas to cut the numbers in a school or college at any one time. “This would allow anyone—staff or student—who is clinically extremely vulnerable or clinically vulnerable, or who lives with anyone in those categories, to work from home,” she said.

Refused

Some parents joined a “strike” on Thursday of last week and refused to send their children to school.

The action was organised by the Boycott Return To Unsafe Schools group. Jen, a parent in Sheffield, explained why she took part. 

“It’s an airborne virus and there’s nothing being done to mitigate the risks of that,” she told Socialist Worker. “Having a window open when there’s 30 people sharing a classroom isn’t enough.” 

Jen said those who argue that closing schools will harm children are ignoring the reality of keeping them open. 

“It’s harming children’s mental health forcing them to go in when they’re worried they could come home and kill a parent or harm a sibling,” she said. 

“BAME families are being put at risk and disabled children are at risk.” 

The Office for National Statistics estimates that 1 percent of primary school and 2 percent of secondary school children are infected. 

NEU joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said, “The rate is doubling every two weeks, so it will be 4 percent in a fortnight, and then 8 ­percent. Virtually all the school would be a close contact of someone with the virus.” 

These horrific predictions underline the urgent need for action. If the government won’t close schools and colleges, workers should push their unions to take action that will.


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