Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 50 Number 33, August 29, 2020 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Workers' Forum

NEU Raises Staff Safety Questions as Boris Johnson
Urges Parents to Send Children Back to School

The National Education Union (NEU) has warned that schools must have "very clear Covid-secure measures" for all staff, as Boris Johnson appealed directly to parents to send their children back to school on September 1.

The NEU called on the government to employ more teachers and secure extra teaching spaces "to allow education to continue in a Covid-secure manner if infections rise". This should "include employment of student teachers who have finished their courses and not yet found jobs, as well as mobilisation of supply staff," the union said.

But the focus on transmission to pupils not only is based on the premise that "business as usual" should be the norm, but is deliberately ignoring the concerns both of the safety of staff and of the asymptomatic and other transmission of Covid-19 in society. The fight is engaged that the reopening of schools must be safe, and it is yet to be seen what the outcome will be, particularly when government guidelines are so contradictory and changeable.

A study conducted by Public Health England, for example, found that school staff were more likely to be affected by Covid-19 than pupils. Of the 198 confirmed cases in June, the month that schools began to reopen more widely, 128 were in staff and just 70 were in children. Another example is that of a special school in Dundee, where it is reported that after reopening in line with Scottish schools earlier this month, 17 teachers, two pupils and two community contacts had contracted Covid-19, forcing the school to close.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, has said that it is "crucially important all schools have very clear Covid-secure measures, and those should apply rigorously to adults within the school. We have supported schools in ensuring that all staff have the confidence to return to a working environment which is as safe as practically possible."

Kevin Courtney continued: "Many staff, parents and students will be anxious, and face masks will help to alleviate that anxiety. It will go some way towards ensuring there is confidence amongst parents that schools are safe places, so that in-person learning can recommence for all students, which is what we all want to see."

He added that clinically extremely vulnerable people "could and should be allowed to work from home, given the extra risks they face", and called on the government to respond to advice from the World Health Organisation, which states that the over-60s and other vulnerable people should wear medical-grade masks where social distancing cannot be achieved.

It is the case that throughout the teaching profession, staff are working flat out to make sure that both pupils and staff are as safe as possible on reopening. The education unions and other teacher collectives are taking up their part in acting responsibly, discussing safety requirements, making their views known and putting measures in place. They are being put in a very difficult position by the actions - and inaction - of the government, and are fearing the extent of the burden that is being placed on their shoulders. In this context, they are seeing how important are their voices and their collectives in ensuring the future direction of education.


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