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Union backs two-week shutdown of secondaries

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Issue 2727
NEU members protest over an unsafe return to schools in June
NEU members protest over an unsafe return to schools in June (Pic: Guy Smallman)

The infection rate among secondary school pupils rose by more than in any other age group since September.

The NEU education union has called for a two-week shutdown of secondary schools and colleges in an attempt to deal with the surge in coronavirus cases.

It would mean the half term holiday being extended to a fortnight.

Meanwhile, the Welsh Labour government announced on Monday that secondary schools would close as part of a two-week firebreak lockdown from 23 October to 9 November.

Primary schools will go back after one week of half term.

Secondary schools will remain shut, apart from years 7 and 8, for the second week.

The rate of Covid-19 infections among school year 7 to school year 11—secondaries—rose from 40 per 100,000 on 1 September to 930 per 100,000 on 8 October.

That’s 23 times more, and a bigger rise than any other age group.


Another set of figures show that infection rates amongst ­secondary pupils tripled in the ­fortnight between 23 September and 8 October.

This is the same rate of growth as for university students. But secondary students are generally living with their families, and it is much harder to isolate them.

NEU joint general secretary Kevin Courtney, said, “Scientists have consistently told the prime minister and the department for education that secondary students transmit the virus as much as adults.

“We have warned them that, because we have among the biggest class sizes in Europe, we have ­overcrowded classrooms and corridors without effective social distancing.

“These children live in families and are part of communities.

“So even if they have few or no symptoms themselves they are still part of spreading the virus to others, including to teachers and other school staff.”

Debs Gwynn is a teacher in Liverpool, one of the areas in the government’s “Tier 3” category. She told Socialist Worker, “Schools and colleges are scary places. In our school we’re lucky we have good systems in place.

Students and workers demand action over coronavirus at universities
Students and workers demand action over coronavirus at universities
  Read More

“But if you’re in schools that aren’t doing that you are going to get a backlash.

“There are more safety measure we could take.

“Some of the demands in the NEU ten point plan from the summer were about retraining people as teachers and other education workers.

“We could requisition buildings, then can have smaller class sizes.”

It’s good the NEU has made the call for a shutdown. But it raises several issues.

If it is to be meaningful, it has to be backed by action if, as is highly likely, the government refuses to implement it.

That would mean using walkouts and the Section 44 provisions under health and safety laws.

And if secondaries and colleges should be shut, what about primaries?

And if a shutdown is right now, it logically should not end until there is a substantial improvement in the rates of infection.

It’s time for serious action. There has to be a fight for safety and to protect workers’ pay and jobs during any lockdown.

Support the People Before Profit group’s emergency programme for jobs, services and safety

Test, trace … and arrest

Cops will be given the details of people who have been told to self-isolate through the privatised NHS Test and Trace system.

Those who are not self-isolating “without reasonable justification” may have their name, address and contact details given to the local authority and the police.

The Department of Health and Social Care said the police will be able to access information “on a case-by-case” basis.

“This may lead to enforcement action being taken against you, which could include you being fined,” its website says.

Fines were introduced as part of the Tories’ plans to pass the blame of rising cases onto individuals’ behaviour.

One of the government’s own advisers, chief medical officer Chris Whitty, warned that information being given to the police could put people off being tested for Covid-19.

Anti-racists also fear data passed on to the police could be used for other purposes, such as authorities tracking down undocumented migrants.

Another appsolute failure

As many as four million users of the NHS coronavirus app were sent incorrect risk-level change alerts in England and Wales last Friday.

App users in high risk areas received alerts about “rising risk levels”.

Yet the app would only give them information about medium risk areas.

Official government guidance about the three-tier system has already been causing confusion. But notifications contradicting guidance on an area’s risk level has added to the chaos.

The app already had problems after a “glitch” meant thousands of people were not contacted about self-isolating.

And bugs meant users would receive notifications about “possible Covid-19 exposure”, which would disappear.

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