It would seem that the triumphalism emanating from the National Education Union (NEU) and leftie politicians regarding school closures is misplaced. Schools are not closed!
The NEU had been under pressure from teachers and parents since schools reopened in September because of concerns about Covid-19 security. There have been many issues surrounding teachers and students who are either Clinically Vulnerable (CV) or Clinically Extremely Vulnerable (CEV) – those who have an even chance of dying if they catch Covid-19. Unfortunately, these issues were dealt with on an individual basis rather than a collective one. Individual teachers and parents with health concerns were left to negotiate reasonable adjustments with their respective head teachers and decisions were made according to the caprice of individual head teachers. The NEU was reluctant to call for collective action. This was for a number of reasons. There was no unanimity among both teachers and parents regarding school closures. Consequently, the NEU bosses were not confident that they would get the required majority if it called a strike ballot. Neither were they confident that they would have public opinion on their side. There was also the issue of there being a number of Unions for education workers. The NEU was worried about losing members to other unions because they did not agree with collective action on school closures.
The “new”, we’d known about it since September 2020!, UK variant of Covid-19, though, changed thinking about the wisdom of having schools open. The more infectious strain which affects children as much as adults and which the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, dubbed a mutant strain which was out of control, had teachers and parents running to their respective unions, head teachers and politicians. The NEU was forced to act. It issued “Section 44” letters to its members.Section 44 of The Employment Rights Act 1996 provides employees with the ‘right’ to withdraw from and to refuse to return to a workplace that is unsafe. Employees are entitled to remain away from the workplace (e.g. stay at home) if – in their opinion – the prevailing circumstances represent a real risk of serious and imminent danger which they could not be expected to avert.
Alas, teachers were expected to hand these letters to their bosses on an individual basis. For many teachers that would be difficult. As my old Teacher Training, Education lecturer informed me when I was training to be a teacher, Heads have as much power as dictators and one crosses them at one’s peril. They can make teachers lives a misery. Moreover, many teachers are on short term contracts and are worried about not having their contracts renewed because of non-compliance.
Staff and pupils still in unsafe environment.
However, the major flaw in the NEU strategy was that the Section 44 letters gave an undertaking that teachers would attend school to teach the children of key workers, vulnerable children and deliver online learning. In effect schools are open! The following students are entitled to attend their places of learning:
- Vulnerable children – those receiving free school meals and those without digital devices or data allowances
- The children of key workers and, unlike during the first “lockdown”, only one parent has to be a key worker
- Children who attend Special Schools
That is a lot of teachers and students working in unsafe environments!
Estimates put attendance at schools at between 50% and 70% (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-55579711). That means that safe distancing cannot be practised and that schools remain unsafe and still acting as vectors of transmission of a mutant Covid-19 strain which is already out of control.
What on earth is going on you might ask yourself? Why would the Prime Minister and Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, fly in the face of scientific advice, risk people’s lives and put a struggling NHS under more pressure than is necessary? Well, Johnson has form and is notorious for his inability to make decisions which he thinks may be unpopular. Williamson, plain and simple, is out of his depth and can’t do the job properly, a verdict which could equally apply to Johnson! In addition, both have got things wrong so often that people have lost confidence in them. They both seem to think that keeping schools open as much as possible would be popular with parents who can’t cope with home education. They both know that people will be inconvenienced enough by Brexit and that they may be alienated completely if they have to stay at home with their unruly children.
As proponents of class struggle, we at No Safety, No Work see what is happening as an act of class war by Johnson and Williamson. Pretending that you are following the science by closing schools but in effect keeping them open has been dubbed “Johnson’s Revenge” by many teachers. Johnson is a fully signed up member of the ruling class and does not like having his hand forced by “oiky” teachers. He staked so much on keeping schools open and cannot bring himself to close them properly, save lives and protect the NHS. Similarly with Williamson, a member of the ruling class who sees those beneath him on the hierarchy as expendable. And when one looks at who is affected by the half measure approach to school closures, one can detect a class bias. The schools which are pretty much full will be in working class areas which have lots of vulnerable children living there. From the point of view of the ruling class, the working class is expendable.