|Volume 50 Number 15, April 25, 2020||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
There is continuing concern amongst teachers, as well as among the public at large, about the pressure to force schools to re-open earlier than is safe given that the Covid-19 pandemic is still raging. The pressure is coming in the context of voices being raised from business magnates and their political representatives that there must be an "exit strategy" so as to get back to "business as usual". The context is also that of the exclusion of those at the coal-face of delivering education in Britain, whether directly or indirectly concerned, from decision-making, when in fact it is precisely those concerned and the working people as a whole who are a key and necessary component of the solution.
As things stand, education workers are often being characterised as part of the problem whilst being excluded from any meaningful participation, whereas teachers and education workers across the land are declaring that not only are they not part of the problem but they are demanding to be part of the solution and to speak in their own name. The consciousness of this state of affairs is certainly deepening as the working people, who are only too ready to volunteer to take up social responsibility, are not only blocked from decision-making as to the way forward, but have no mechanism to hold the government to account.
It appears that a tactic of the government has been to announce that schools might go back, arousing an outcry from teachers and their unions, in response to which the government appears to compromise and say that it will give it more thought. But the issue is that it is not a matter for the government to simply inform teaching staff and education workers when it is time to return to work, as a pragmatic matter. The issue is that this approach fails to recognise that it is the education workers themselves who should have the say over when schools go back, and that it is they who will ensure that the well-being of the workers and the children of school age are taken account of, and that the conditions necessary for the provision of any education to happen are put in the first place. What the government has been up to has created a profound lack of trust. While the government has of course been professing every concern that people should stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives, it has only vested private interests at heart. This situation has served to expose that decisions are being kept the preserve of the elites in government, whereas in fact it is the teachers who should have the decisive say on this question.
It is way too early to speak of the re-opening of schools as an imminent project. What must also be considered is that when schools do return, a priority must be that enough PPE is provided for the teachers.
In the present, there is also the concern of the pressure on teachers to master the technology required for distance learning, as well as the extra workload that such teaching brings with it. Again, the teachers are having measures imposed on them, when they need to be discussing the solutions, drawing the line at what is not acceptable regarding their working conditions, and hammering out solutions which are acceptable as regards the students' learning conditions. And, indeed, there is the whole question of what can be put in place so that families are also provided with what they require. Here again, the perspective which the teachers and parents can provide is that of education being a right, and that conditions, resources and support be provided to guarantee and realise this right. The government cannot expect the impossible, and the teachers must be involved to determine what is reasonable and possible. Teachers are resisting an ever-increasing workload, which they know helps neither them nor the students.
Concrete conditions themselves are now putting on the agenda the question of what kind of education is required now and in the future. What type of education is necessary in a modern world? What is not needed is the growing gap in resources between private education and the state sector, and the growing crisis in providing education that a modern society needs. The perspective must be that what is required is that education should be aimed at advancing the whole of society, where the younger generation get the education necessary for the development of society. Instead, the pressure is to return to medievalism; values of enlightenment are being trampled; values around market forces are what prevails.
The present situation, with the crisis in the values of education, the underfunding and lack of resources, the pressure on teachers and support staff, is revealing starkly what problems exist in the sphere of education and which are being exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. It will not be acceptable to teachers or for the education system as a whole to go back to "business as usual". The issue is being raised as to who are the decision-makers. Teachers are saying that what is going on is not in their name, and that they must have a say, not only in when schools should return, but over all issues that affect their lives and the quality of education provided to students, and what measures must be taken to guarantee the right to education at the highest level for all children and students.