The education sector has been central to the Government’s strategy for lifting lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools being closed and many grandparents being in the ‘vulnerable’ category means that whether their industry was closed or not, many parents have had to stay at home to care for their children. This has, along with the general guidance to stay at home, led to no economic growth. It has been widely suggested that this lack of economic growth – rather than a change in the handling of the virus – is the reason that the Government now wishes to open schools as soon as possible.
The reality of life in school at this current time is very different to how schools usually operate. Pupils are not allowed to touch, hug, hold hands or share equipment. This goes against everything we usually teach our children about caring for one another, sharing and generally communicating in a positive way.
The media and the government consistently use other European countries as examples of how schools can re-open safely. This discourse relies on a distortion of the model set overseas. For example, in Denmark, the children are in social ‘bubbles’ of 3 children indoors and 5 outdoors. Our social ‘bubbles’ are currently set at a limit of 15. Since writing, it has been announced that whole classes are to return in September, regardless of infection rates.
Pupils and staff in Special Schools have been ignored and not listened to, as evidenced by the diktat that schools should open their doors to all pupils with an Education Health Care Plan (EHCP). An EHCP is a legal document which gives children with additional health and care needs a statement of rights to have their individual needs met. Opening doors to all pupils with an EHCP is a practical impossibility for special schools, all of whose pupils, by definition, have an EHCP. This lack of consideration is exacerbated by the difficulties of socially distancing whilst supporting students with high additional needs and the failure of the government to provide clear direction on how this can be achieved in reality, not just on paper.
The media and the government are also pushing a false discourse of ‘lazy teachers’ and protecting vulnerable pupils. They state that teachers do not wish to return to work because we want more time off. This could not be further from the truth. Apart from some CEOs and heads of privately run Multi Academy Trusts (MATs), no education professional ever does their job for the pay or the holidays. The claim that teachers are enjoying time off is equally ridiculous. School staff have been working incredibly hard across during the pandemic to:
- ensure pupils have appropriate work to do at home
- work on a rota to support the children of key workers and vulnerable pupils in school
- ensure pupils’ and parents’ mental health through phone calls and emails
- continue to work alongside colleagues in other sectors to ensure the safety of all pupils
- support the risk assessment process for returning to school sites
As for the discourse around ‘vulnerable pupils’, there is no need to educate fellow workers on just how much successive governments have cared about the vulnerable in our society over the past 10 years! The Government has recently been claiming that these vulnerable pupils will fall behind and therefore be at an additional disadvantage in successive years. It is not widely noted that in fact, every pupil who is in this category already has a right to be educated in school alongside the children of ‘key workers’. It is true to say that not all of these places have been taken but the places are available nonetheless. Perhaps the Government should look at why these places are not being taken up, rather than just bemoan that vulnerable pupils will fall behind. In addition to being automatically eligible for a place in school at this time, the government claimed that they were going to support these families further by continuing the free school meals provision and through providing IT equipment such as laptops and modems. The chaos that has been the free school meals voucher scheme has been widely documented. Less well documented is that the promise of laptops, modems and other IT equipment has not emerged for many.
The relaxation of the 2m guidance down to 1m is the latest in a series of measures designed to push schools to open more widely so that parents can return to work. In theory, it would mean that instead of a ‘bubble’ of 15 pupils as is current guidance, that a full class of 30 could return to school. In practise, many classes are above 30 in numberas there is no limit for class sizes of children aged 7+. The theory that 30 children could work within the 1m guidance also suggests that classrooms are at least 30m2. This is simply not the case!
In a tweet dated 22ndJune, the independent group of scientists @independentSAGEmade it clear that reducing this guidance would likely further discriminate against those with BAME backgrounds. A pictoral tweet from them states that reducing this 2m guidance to 1m is strongly likely to put these groups at even greater risk as those from BAME backgrounds are already at greater risk from infection and death from COVID-19.
We call upon our comrades to support those in the education sector by:
- sharing social media posts of the realities of life in school for pupils and staff at this time.
- challenging the general discourse which compares the UK to other European countries where there have been much lower numbers of cases and overall death rates.
- refusing to send your own children to school wherever possible (the Government listens to parent power)
- challenging the discourse of ‘lazy teachers’ and ‘protecting vulnerable pupils’.
Talk to parents you know. Do they feel that their children will be safe? Do they feel forced back to work? If your employer is forcing parents back to work when they do not feel their children will be safe in school can you support them in some way? Is there support for a parent’s and parent’s support group within your organisation so that you can force your employer to listen and remain closed until schools are safe to return?
Finally, our best hope of fighting for our safety is by organizing in our workplaces. It is only if we stand together as parents, teachers, and school staff that we can face our bosses, protect our health and safety in the classroom and at home, and pressure the government into hearing our concerns and including us in the conversation. If you would like to learn more about how the IWW can help with this please drop us an email on education [at] iww [dot] org [dot] uk or join our Education Workers Support Group on Facebook.
Sources and further reading:
Lack of UK economic growth during COVID – ONS figures:
Are schools reopening to save the economy?
Swedish & Danish schools reopening:
SAGE 2m vs 1m guidance: http://www.mpdnut.com/2020/06/independent-sage-confirms-testing-and.html