Promoted by David Beale, 36 Pleasant View, Withnell, Chorley PR6 8SE on behalf of Martin Powell-Davies of TUSC.

Tuesday 24 November 2020

A Government in denial over the impact of Covid-19 on schools

The Government is in complete denial about the severity of the impact of Covid-19 on schools. 

The latest DfE statistics show that nearly three-quarters of secondary schools and almost a third of primary schools have had to send home pupils because of the impact of coronavirus. Nearly a quarter of secondary school students are not in school - and the numbers are getting worse

The Secondary Head’s organisation, ASCL, describes it as “disruption on a monumental scale” – and they’re right.

Just announcing that most schools are ‘open’, misses the point – schools are operating in unplanned, chaotic, stressful conditions, which are unfair and unsafe for pupils, parents and staff alike. Some pupils have had to isolate, come back to school, then told to isolate again.

And that’s no surprise. As the NEU said today, it’s down to government negligence. They have taken almost no measures to protect schools. While everyone else is told to wear masks and keep their distance and follow a ‘lockdown’, schools are told to just ‘keep calm and carry on’ with full classes packed together with inadequate ventilation.

Their own statistics are showing that schools are the venue most frequently reported to Test and Trace, that schoolchildren have the highest rates of test positivity of all age groups. 

Children may not often show symptoms – but that’s what makes the situation so hard to manage. The facts are that, symptoms or not, children can transmit the virus into and back from schools to their families.

Take two schools near where I am based in Cumbria. After an outbreak, one local school has just tested all its students. 29% were positive! Another has just reported that 78 pupils and 17 staff have tested positive.

And that’s repeated across the country. Staff absence alone means more and more schools are having to send whole classes or year groups home.

From one day to the next schools don’t know who will be reporting as unwell or needing to self-isolate. That makes it impossible for schools to support children’s learning in a planned way.

Instead of unplanned chaos, we need planned rota learning, with some pupils working at home and some at school. That would also reduce the numbers in each classroom, reducing the risks of further infection. But, according to the TES today, the DfE are going to announce that they are abandoning their plans to allow schools to move to rotas! 

Their refusal to accept reality is putting lives at risk. Gavin Williamson can’t just sit in a corner with his fingers in his ears, he needs to listen – and fast!

Friday 20 November 2020

Pay freeze threat must be answered through co-ordinated action

So as a big 'thank you' for all we've done in the pandemic, Rishi Sunak has decided on our reward - a three year pay freeze.

This Government was only ever interested in keeping schools open for their own economic interests, not the children's. Not content with putting our personal safety at risk and expecting us to work even longer hours than usual, they now want us to foot the bill for their failures too.

The Government can’t pretend that “we’re all in this together” anymore. Contrast the way their corporate friends have been rewarded through billion-pound Covid contracts. 

Nor should we accept that, just because private-sector employers are putting the boot into their employees, public-sector workers should share in the misery too. No, instead of a race to the bottom, public sector trade unions should give all workers a lead and demand a fully-funded pay increase for all. We must demand an end to the cuts that are undermining public services and also threatening more job losses too.

But the key question for the NEU and other public sector unions is, how do we answer this attack? 

It can't be fought by just more petitions, or by school by school action. A national strategy is needed, and yes, that means building for collective action. If a clear lead is given, members will respond – but leadership is key.

The National Shop Stewards Network has just put out a call for an immediate Day of Action on 5th December, the first Saturday after ‘lockdown’ is due to end. Local trade union led socially distanced protests should be organised in every town to give an immediate answer to Sunak and the Tories.

The NEU should immediately be getting in touch with the leaders of all the public sector unions to plan a joint campaign of action. That could include nationwide protests and demonstrations in the New Year, building towards the ballots for coordinated strike action that will be needed to defeat this pay robbery. 

Time to take action again - as the NEU!