Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 50 Number 18, May 16, 2020 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Workers' Forum

Government's Rushed and Reckless Call for
Schools, Colleges and Nurseries to Start Opening

The government is calling for schools, colleges and nurseries to start opening more widely from June 1. This is a rushed and reckless move, putting at risk not only the lives of staff, but of the pupils and students themselves.

Many schools are sending out questionnaires to staff asking them to basically self-certify if they are well enough to return to work, as opposed to asking the staff if they are happy to return to work and consulting with staff at all levels to assess whether it is safe and appropriate to do so at this time. Many teachers are extremely worried about returning to work, not only because of their own vulnerability but because of the very real danger that they might contract the virus form their pupils and then transmit it to their loved ones and family. It is not fair nor acceptable for the government or employers to be imposing an arbitrary date in this way because it may have a material consequences for education workers, and many might well die or become seriously ill as a consequence. It is playing with people's lives. And it raises this question of who are, or should be, the decision makers in this circumstance.

Furthermore, it amounts to a mockery to talk of social distancing for very young children in kindergartens. What happens when they need to go to the toilet or be helped with meals? What happens when the children go out to play? All teachers know that it is impossible to stop children being in contact with each other most of the time, but especially in the playground. And what happens to those kindergarten and primary school teachers, the vast majority of whom are women, who have young children at home? If they are forced to go into work to teach these classes as proposed, there is very limited child care available, and this will immediately create another problem of looking after the children of the teachers whilst they are back at work covering these classes.

The government, who have enlisted the aid of the Children's Commissioner for England, are being dismissive of teachers and those working in schools. They are ignoring the well-being, needs and wishes of the human beings who work at the coal-face delivering the education. It should not be up to the government to decide these critical matters. Teachers across the country have already been working overtime, not just during the term but over the Easter holidays, to deliver a curriculum online for their pupils, and have been having widespread discussion within their unions, their staff bodies, as well as with parents and other bodies connected with the schools. Overwhelmingly, they have concluded that it is not safe and is not reasonable to expect schools to reopen in any form by June 1. Indeed, the NEU, and the vast majority of teachers are saying that the earliest they should expect to return is September, and even then only in a limited form. The government should be listening to the experience and the conclusions of all of these education workers, who have the interests of the nation's children at the very heart of their considerations. The teachers and their unions, together with support staff and their unions, are declaring that it is not possible to safeguard the well-being of the children without first taking care of and safeguarding the well-being of those providing the education.

The NEU and the other five major unions have joined together in declaring that there must be a criteria agreed in order to know when it is safe for schools to return. This is the basis for the NEU's Five Tests, which includes the necessity for testing of staff and children at every educational establishment. So far, the government has simply ignored or dismissed these tests and has ploughed ahead with its own agenda. In the discussions on Friday, May 15, it was clear that the government is not only not listening to the unions and their members, but it denies that the teachers being required to come into schools to teach from June 1 have any right to have a say in what happens. The NEU has declared that this position and this determination to force people back to work when all the evidence is showing that it is way too early to do so, is both "rushed and reckless" and is deeply irresponsible. The government has revealed in all its actions that it has no care for the human being and is only concerned to serve the needs of big business and finance. But teachers across the land are not accepting this and are fighting for what is right and needed, as well as taking account of what will ensure the well-being of all in society.

The teachers and their unions are united on their concern for all pupils, all teachers, and all support staff. Yet the government is refusing to listen. It points the way for teachers to be their own authority. They are providing the solutions, but the government has other concerns. It points the way towards the implementation of education as a right at the highest standard possible, and that the new normal cannot be the same as the old normal, which itself was at breaking point.

The government's insistence on June 1 is a recipe for chaos, as are the rest of the guidelines or lack of them on returning to work, being as they are so incoherent and not directed at providing any way forward, except to attempt to ensure an economy which is geared to benefit the monopolies and multinationals, not an economy which utilises social wealth for the benefit of the people.

Teachers are determined to take the struggle forward on the basis of sorting out the issues with conviction, united in this conviction that implementing their stand collectively is the way forward.


Tuesday, April 14 - NEU leaders, Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, sent a letter to the Prime Minster calling for clarity on any decision to reopen schools. This letter went unanswered.

Friday, May 1 - NEU Published its five tests, giving conditions and criteria needed before schools should reopen.

Sunday, May 10 - Boris Johnson announces new Road Map for ending of lockdown and for schools to return by June 1. Changed slogan from Stay at Home to Stay Alert!

Monday, May 11 - Thursday, May 14 - NEU engages in mass discussion with its 450,000 members across Britain.

Friday, May 15 - The NEU leadership met with the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, to urgently discuss and oppose the early return date for schools.

In a letter to NEU Members, they reported: "The Prime Minister's announcement that schools, colleges and nurseries should start opening more widely from 1 June was rushed and reckless.

"Our response and our position is clear: this should happen only when it's safe. Safe for children, for the staff who care for and educate them, and for the community. The more than 400,000 teachers, teaching assistants, heads, parents and health workers who have signed our petition agree.

"We have written three times to ask for the scientific evidence the Government says proves it's safe to open schools more widely. All we want is to see the science. Our pressure has led to movement: this afternoon, our leaders met with the Government's scientific advisers, asking again for the evidence. But now we need your help."

Friday, May 15 - The British Medical Association publicly supported the NEU saying that the teaching unions had been "absolutely right to urge caution and prioritise testing before reopening schools on 1 June.

Saturday, May 16 - The Children's Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, declares, "Government and teaching unions should stop squabbling and agree a plan to get kids back into school." Thus under the cover of high ideals, of concern for education, especially of disadvantaged children, the dispute between teachers and government is trivialised. The remarks are seen to be directed against the collective of teachers whom they want to paint as just making trouble when they should be working together with the government. But everyone knows that it is the government who should be working with the teachers. The issue is how to make sure all pupils get schooling as soon as possible, but it is the teachers who have the answers.


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