|Volume 50 Number 31, August 15, 2020||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
The start of the new school year is rapidly approaching, with the expectation being that all children must return to school from September 1, as the government has decreed. At the same time, teachers, parents, schools and the education unions have made it clear that all the problems which are arising must be provided with solutions by placing the well-being of the people in the first place. The express aim must be to guarantee the right to education for all within the conditions of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The first key demand is that the well-being of the people must be guaranteed under the conditions of the Covid-19 pandemic by ensuring that the guidelines against contagion are put in place. It is of the utmost importance to take account of the health and safety of all, including that of teaching staff and support teachers, students and school workers, including cleaners, cafeteria staff and site officers, as well as all other workers working within and for schools, together with parents, families and communities. This is necessary for schools of all kinds, from kindergartens, nurseries and pre-schools, through to primary and secondary schools, and indeed is also required in the universities and colleges.
Second, there is no reason why the right to education cannot be enforced and provided for all under these exceptional circumstances. The experience of the peoples of the world over the last 200 years or so shows that even in conditions of war, where bombs were dropping, including during the Blitz in London and elsewhere in Britain during the Second World War, possibilities were created for the children to continue their education.
The stand being taken by the government is extremely dangerous and can only be described as callous and deeply cynical. Their decision-making is grounded in nothing but the demands of the most narrow private interests in order to benefit from the economic and financial crisis which the prior schemes to pay the rich have created for the economies of England, Wales, Scotland and the north of Ireland. The government's thesis is that there is a "balance" to be struck between the health and safety of staff and students alike with the demands of the economy, and that a certain amount of "collateral damage", including a certain amount of death and social upheaval, simply must be borne.
It is important to debunk this corrupt and self-serving thesis and to reject the measures being imposed, which take no account of the well-being of anybody. Indeed, the arbitrary pronouncements and decisions the government has made throughout this whole Covid-19 crisis have seemed calculated to stifle those very voices fighting to guarantee the well-being and the right to education for all, and who are playing a role in providing the very solutions necessary to solve the problems as they emerge.
It could be said that what has been exposed is a crisis of authority. Throughout, the government acted in an authoritarian way, claiming the authority to make decisions on behalf of the polity, including announcing arbitrary dates for schools to return, the creation of class "bubbles" of up to 300 children in a year group, and the constantly changing rules of social distancing, whilst refusing to consult with teachers, parents, schools and the education unions, and acting in a callous and cynical way, frequently flying in the face of their oft-quoted "science", the most recent announcement being that all schools will open to all pupils from September 1. This is despite the numbers of Covid-19 related deaths still being alarmingly high and real fears of second wave of the virus come the winter.
By contrast, the education unions, in consultation with their members, schools, parents and the wider community, have acted responsibly and with genuine authority. Their interest is in guaranteeing the well-being of everyone in society. Their authority lies in their determination to speak in their own name as part of fighting in defence of the rights of all. They seek to guarantee an education as a right for all, which they are working to bring into being, no matter what the conditions, for the whole of society.