Large numbers of primary schools across England were closed to most children on Monday as workers refused to return on safety grounds.
The NEU union had asked workers not to return to fully open schools, and called for schools to move to online learning instead. It said workers could refuse to return citing Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act.
Workers’ refusal to return clearly played a pivotal role in forcing schools to abandon plans to fully reopen.
There were 16,784 primary schools across England last year. On Monday morning, the NEU tweeted, “Our central figure is that S44 letters have gone into over 6,000 primary schools but we will be monitoring the situation throughout the day.”
Emma Parker is secretary of the NEU in Durham and on the union’s national executive committee. She said early on Monday morning that 429 NEU members had used Section 44 in 88 settings. And she said 67 would be closed to most children on Monday as a result.
Local newspapers reported schools closed across England.
Many schools in Coventry were closed to most children, with parents at Allesley Primary told that this was due to a lack of workers.
NEU joint district secretary for Coventry Chris Denson said many more schools would not be fully closed “but will be having to close large sections”. In Saddleworth, Holy Trinity CE primary school closed to most children “due to lack of staff” said head teacher Liz Travis.
Many schools across Lancaster and Morecambe were closed. Moorside Primary School in Lancaster closed “as a result of advice from unions”. It was open only for key worker and vulnerable children.
Dallas Road Community Primary School is closed to all children except key worker and vulnerable for two weeks. It said the reasons are, “Industrial action, excessive staff absence, 2/3 of teaching staff have written claiming S44 and S100 of health and safety legislation.
“Therefore there are insufficient staff to safely open the school.”
Joanne Banks, head teacher at Bowerham Primary and Nursery School, said the school would be closed on Monday. “We do not feel it is safe to open due to the uncertainty of staffing and the ongoing review of our risk assessment,” she said.
She added that the school planned to open on Tuesday for key worker and vulnerable children.
Other schools closed include Great Wood School in Morecambe, Torrisholme Primary School and Morecambe Bay Primary School.
Figures show that nearly a quarter of all coronavirus cases in the Lancaster district are among children and teenagers.
Tests carried out on 18 December showed that 20 percent of positive tests were from 0-19 year olds. By 29 December, this had risen to 24.2 percent. The biggest rises were among 0-4 and 10-14 year olds.
Lancaster and Morecambe district NEU secretary Sam Ud-din said, “It is no longer possible to just ‘hope for the best’. Schools are not currently safe enough for any adults working in them.
“We will support every member fully who decides to use the Section 44 Employment legislation to protect themselves, their families and their communities from the clear risks that travelling to and being at work in crowded schools involve.”
NEU members in the north west collected the details of scores of primary schools that had not fully reopened on Monday. They included schools in Liverpool, Manchester, Oldham, Sefton, Chorley, Blackburn, Wirral and Bolton.
Captain Cook Primary School in Marton, Teesside, closed the school for two weeks after workers raised safety concerns. Head teacher Amy Young said the move followed unions advising members it was unsafe to return to full classrooms.
She said concerns had “resulted in some trade unions taking action in relation to safety in schools”.
“Following union discussions, a number of school staff have decided to take the advice given by unions. There I have had to make the very difficult decision to close school for the next two weeks.”
Knavesmire Primary and Copmanthorpe School in York are not reopening this week for most children. Knavesmire head teacher Adam Cooper said the move was due to a shortage of staff.
A local news report said, “Knavesmire is unable to open to all pupils because of the number of staff who have submitted letters under Section 44.”
Southampton council listed eight schools that would not be opening on Monday, and cited staff shortages for three of them.
In Oxfordshire, at least four schools were not fully reopen on Monday. Nettlebed Community School said it was “unable to open due to lack of staff”.
Hertfordshire County Council said not all schools in the area would open “due to insufficient teaching staff”.
More schools in Gloucestershire and Norwich announced partial closures due to staff shortages. There will be many, many more.
Monday represented a huge slap in the face for Boris Johnson and all the Tories who are determined to force schools to open “as usual”. It showed the power that workers can have when they get organised—and why it matters what union leaders do.
As of Monday afternoon, Johnson had still failed to concede that schools should close to stop further spread of coronavirus. And whatever he announces on Monday evening, pressure will continue to push workers and students into unsafe environments.
Workers and students must keep organising on the ground to resist the Tories’ gambling with our lives.