Should parents and staff trust the Tories about return to school?

Photo: Paul Hart

No one can doubt the Conservative Party’s commitment to children living in poverty and overcrowded homes with inadequate diets writes Andy Stowe. The Child Poverty Action Group says 4.1 million , 30% of the UK’s total number of children, were living in poverty in 2017-18, a figure expected to rise to 5.2 million by 2022. Even the government’s own numbers say 2.8 million children were living in families that don’t have enough money 

You will hardly need to be reminded that the Conservatives have been in power since May 2010, a decade in which they have cut benefits and wages and overseen a huge increase in zero hours contracts and job insecurity. 

Michael Gove has been at the heart of Tory governments for most of that time. He’s now saying to teachers “If you really care about children, you will want them to be in school”, a message that is being endlessly repeated in the Tory press and by their supporters in the academy world.  

But let’s remember the real victims in all this. Parents who send their children to top flight private schools can pay more than £40 000 a year in fees. There is no sign that Winchester, Eton or any other private schools are going to open anytime soon.  While it’s fine for working class children to be sent into underfunded, often dilapidated school buildings the offspring of Britain’s rulers aren’t being encouraged back to their Latin classes and playing fields.  

If the pandemic has reminded us of one thing it’s that Tory politicians lie. They lie about teachers being safe in school; they lie about the preparations they made to prevent the slaughter in care homes; they lie about having a vaccine ready for this September. 

Parents see through these lies. Those schools which are currently open rarely have more than a handful of pupils turning up. That’s not going to change until parents are confident their children will be safe.  

NEU gains 7000 members in a week 

The National Education Union (NEU) has got them rattled. When papers like the Daily Heil aren’t running stories about Keir Starmer being a decent son, they are doing hatchet jobs on the union’s leaders with startling revelations that some of them are a bit left wing and supported Jeremy Corbyn. 

One consequence of this is that 7500 new members joined the NEU last week. On Monday May 18th almost 20 000 union members took part in an online meeting. They’ve heard the union’s leaders Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney all over the media saying that the union wants children back in school. But that can only be when it is safe for the teaching assistants, premises, canteen and office staff, teachers and most importantly the children and their families. There is no doubt that the union leaders are speaking for their members on this. 

It is the poorest children who live in the most crowded and unhealthy homes, very often with three generations of the same family sharing the space. School staff, especially in cities, will have to use public transport. They will get infected and they will infect others. 

The NEU has produced detailed advice for its members, many of whom have gone to work throughout the lock down to provide face to face teaching to disadvantaged pupils and the children of key workers. Government ministers – not to mention David Blunkett – are either ignorant of this fact or choose to ignore it because it doesn’t fit their narrative.  

It’s workers against the Tories 

The union is insisting on testing for staff and intensified cleaning regimes. Children will have to be guided towards a whole new way of interacting in schools with frequent handwashing, avoiding physical contact, not using other people’s equipment. And it’s just not possible to socially distance fifteen reception and year 1 children. These children have the cognitive level of five-year olds because they are five years old. In special schools, some children soil themselves, bite and spit at staff and other pupils. The Tories are saying nothing about this.  

Even the headteachers’ union is saying that the arrangements for a return “are likely to prove impractical and unworkable in most schools” and a growing number of local authorities are resisting the pressure for a June 1st return. 

The Tories are not saying anything about the greater vulnerabilities of black and ethnic minority staff or family either, despite their much higher death rates working in hospitals and care homes. Only the unions are speaking up for these workers.  

Education workers are facing enormous pressure to put their lives and health at risk.  

The Tories are desperate to get as many people back to work as possible. This is a massive conflict between a group of unionised workers who are interested only in the best interests of their children and stopping the spread of the pandemic and a Tory government which has condemned millions to poverty and tens of thousands to death.  

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3 Comments on Should parents and staff trust the Tories about return to school?

  1. This resolution comes from the Socialist Educational Association, Labour’s affiliated education organisation

    Schools only to fully re-open when safe

    Since the government partially shut school buildings on March 20th, schools across the country have worked hard to continue providing an education for students via distance learning, support vulnerable students and provide a safe place for the children of key workers. Some school buildings were closed but education hasn’t stopped. Returning to school is vital for young people – especially those from less advantaged backgrounds – but it is imperative that this is safe, carefully planned, and that students return to an appropriate, supportive curriculum to help them respond to the strange circumstances they have been in.

    Teachers, support staff, pupils and their families must not be used as an experiment and it would be reckless for any Government to ignore the independent scientific advice, which is at best uncertain, and thereby endanger lives. The British Medical Association has stated that opening schools at the moment would risk a second spike and increase the spread of this virus in a dangerous fashion.

    The SEA are clear that school buildings cannot fully reopen until the following has been met:
    1. Much lower numbers of Covid-19 cases (with a sustained downward trend).
    2. A national plan for social distancing, including clear parameters and appropriate PPE in schools.
    3. Comprehensive access to regular testing for students and staff to ensure that schools do not become spreading spots for Covid-19.
    4. Protocols put in place to test whole schools or colleges when cases occur and to strictly isolate cases.
    5. Protection for vulnerable students and staff, and those who live with vulnerable people. This should include the ability of staff to work from home to fulfil their professional duties as far as possible, and provision for students with vulnerable home situations to learn remotely.

    We call on the UK Government to establish an Education Task Force comprised of education Trade Unions, epidemiologists, and other stakeholders; they should be tasked with producing a short, medium and long term plan for reopening schools during the continued threat of Covid-19, including the criteria that will be used for making decisions, and to be widely shared as soon as possible.

    We encourage Local Authorities and Academy Trusts to follow the example of LAs such as Liverpool, Haringey, North of Tyne, Hartlepool, and Brighton – and devolved governments in Wales, Scotland, and NI – in making it clear that they will not reopen schools until it is safe.

  2. Janita Arif // 19th May 2020 at 11:29 pm // Reply

    Children are safest at home.

  3. Richard Hatcher // 20th May 2020 at 9:24 am // Reply

    While a growing number of local authorities are rejecting the government’s plan to begin to fully open schools on June 1, some of the ‘chief executives’ who run chains of academies have announced that they intend to go ahead, contrary to what teachers and parents say is safe

    To give an example, in the Birmingham area they run between them 36 academies, including five belonging to E-Act, which has 28 academies across England.

    These CEOs run their chains as semi-privatised businesses. They are not accountable to local authorities or to parents. Even if the governing body of one of their schools objects to fully opening on June 1 it is powerless to stop it, because under academy legislation the school no longer exists as a legal entity, it is just a local branch of the chain’s controlling body, the academy Trust.

    Covid-19 has provided further evidence that the campaign to abolish academy status and integrate all state-funded schools into a fully funded and democratically run local authority system remains a top priority.

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