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Schools are not safe: enough is enough

This article is over 1 years, 7 months old

Below is a statement in response to the growing crisis around Covid from educators who are members of the Socialist Workers Party:

The disastrous handling of the Covid pandemic by this government is plain for all to see.

Yet it plumbed even greater depths in the last week. The threat of legal action against Greenwich council came just four days before their announcement of moving London, the South East and part of the East of England in to tier 4.

The government knew schools, both secondary and primary, were driving virus transmission, yet refused to give an inch on allowing schools to move to online teaching for the last days of term.

Then the appalling fiasco of their mass testing proposals was rightly denounced as completely “inoperable” not just by the NEU, but by all the heads’ unions and even the Church of England.

Now we hear that secondary schools will not fully start back as planned on the 4th January so that testing arrangements can be implemented.

The NEU has called for the right things through the autumn. The union called for smaller class sizes, mass testing and for the equipment to be made available to children and students to allow remote learning.

The NEU called for schools and colleges to be included in a half term circuit breaker and then the November lock down. It loudly supported the stance taken by Greenwich and other councils in London to move to online learning in December.

And it rightly denounced the fiasco of the government’s testing proposal for January.

We should join with those in the union who are saying “we told you so” to the government.

Tier 4 changes everything

But we must also be clear about what needs to happen now. The truth is that schools at present are not safe – not safe for students, not safe for communities and not safe for staff.

In order to break the transmission of the virus, things need to drastically change in schools.

The press statement and letter to the government from our joint general secretaries on Monday was spot on about what should happen.

Schools should not open as normal on the 4th January.

In Scotland the government is keeping schools closed until 11th January, and then with remote learning only until at least 18th January.

The time for half measures is long past.

What should happen

• All schools should move to remote or online learning until virus levels are under control.

• Workable testing arrangements, not the current “inoperable” plan, must be put in place.

• And there should be a mass vaccination programme for school staff too.

We should ramp up the pressure in every way possible to press for all this to happen.

A national zoom for reps and members before the start of term would help drive the message home at the base of the union.

And if the government does not listen our national union leaders should say clearly that members have a right to not work in unsafe workplaces and they will get union support if they exercise that right.

And if the government doesn’t listen too, we need to organise on the ground to stop people being forced into unsafe schools in January -with (socially distanced or online) meetings in schools and districts.

We need to organise and act – to keep our members safe, keep students safe, keep local communities safe and bring down virus level quickly, get effective mass testing in place so we can do what we all want and give our students the education they deserve.

Cancel exams now

And surely now there should be no question of exams going ahead next summer- given the further disruption the spring term will bring in schools?

SATS, GCSEs and A Levels should be cancelled and a proper system of moderated teacher assessment put in place as quickly as possible to give already stressed students some clarity and reassurance.


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