Despite promises to protect their members against COVID-19 risks, the education workers unions, the National Education Union (NEU) and the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), have signally failed to do this.
This is in spite of schools being seen as an important spreader of the virus, through the three way channels of parents and families, school students, and teachers. Schools have re-opened across the United Kingdom, with England re-opening in March, and Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland fully in mid-April.
The NEU and NASUWT, despite a groundswell of concern from its teacher members, only advised that schools should remain closed during the lockdown imposed in March 2020. They failed to organise action when schools were not included in the second lockdown beginning on November 5th, and when primary schools were re-opened on the 4th January this year. This was in spite of some local borough councils in London instructing their schools to move to remote learning.
When Gavin Williamson, Secretary for Education, put pressure on these councils to keep schools open, the NEU and NASUWT failed to effectively fight against this. Not one strike authorised by the unions against Williamson’s diktats has taken place, despite the majority of the unions’ membership ready to take action. Despite indications to the opposite, both NEU and NASUWT are swallowing the line of the government that the pandemic has run its course, even while Johnson was hedging his bets by stating that another surge might well happen later in the year.
Alongside this is the government’s refusal to give teachers a pay rise. Coupled with an increase in the workload, and the Covid threat, this puts teachers in a bad place. But the unions are also refusing to put up a fight around pay and conditions. Teachers must now think seriously of action up to and including strikes, which goes against and beyond the control of the union bureaucrats.