Socialist Party members played an important part in building the Day of Action organised on 21st August to highlight the need for a safe return to school in September.
The Day of Action was called by the ‘Education Solidarity Network’, the Broad Left network that Socialist Party in Education helped to initiate, alongside others, in the NEU. With activities taking place in Carlisle, Lewisham, Coventry, Newham, Leicester, Medway, Bristol, Worcester, Plymouth, Waltham Forest and Greenwich, the campaign received important publicity in both the national and local media.
We hope that this will give encouragment to all those staff, students and parents worried about the Government drive to reopen schools fully in England at the start of the Autumn Term without sufficient safety measures being in place – and also encourage the National Education Union to be far bolder in its upcoming advice to reps and members about acting collectively to protect safety.
For those who could not attend a local event, a live ‘Zoom rally’ was organised at midday, with campaigners reporting in from their local activities, chaired by Martin Powell-Davies. You can listen to the full recording of the rally here.
Here’s what some of the Socialist Party members helping to lead local events had to say:
In Bristol, Sheila Caffrey explained on the local BBC radio why she and other parents and staff were taking part in the Day of Action. Sheila explained that “As a teacher, I miss the young people that I teach but we’re putting forward ‘Safety First’ to try and avoid a second lockdown and keep as many people as we can safer. At no point did schools close last term, even over the Easter holidays schools stayed open to support the children and families who needed it most. But even when we opened wider in June we had bubbles of fifteen at most, but now we could have 30 or more in the class and secondary school ‘bubbles’ of year groups of 200-plus”.
In Newham, local NEU Joint Secretary Louise Cuffaro organised a campaign stall in East Ham with leaflets translated into community languages. As she explained in a special feature in the latest issue of the Socialist newspaper, “scientific reports show that while children can be asymptomatic, or only mildly infected, they can transmit the virus. Also, schools are not just full of pupils – they are full of teachers, support staff, administration staff, cleaners, caretakers, catering staff, visiting social workers, educational psychologists and other specialists meeting the needs of various pupils. In fact, schools provide the very conditions in which transmission of Covid-19 can rapidly spread in large groups of people in enclosed spaces, in forced close proximity for long periods of time.”
In the same feature, Lindsey Morgan, who has led the local ‘Leicester Safety First: parents, carers, students and school staff together’ group, explained the pressure on parents: “Lockdown has been incredibly difficult for swathes of working-class parents who have had to try and balance work with home educating, or by trying to get hold of overpriced childcare, or even trying to manage their own mental health and the worries of their children. But a building body of research has shown that teenage children transmit the virus as well as adults … combine this with poorly ventilated classrooms, no PPE for teachers and students, no social distancing and the general cramped conditions of many schools, and it is a potential disaster.
Lindsey points out that “Socialist Party in Education has drawn up a set of demands which mitigate the risk and develop the National Education Union’s five tests. This includes a demand for students to go in on a rota basis to enable blended learning. By reducing class sizes, you lessen the risk for all in the school environment, but also enable shielders to not take risks to their lives, and parents who need to work can. Physical resources, including books, IT resources, and so on, should also be provided … The atrocious threat of fines should also be removed. If this isn’t done at government level, heads (who can authorise absences), should look to their colleagues for support in not implementing fines, and take local authorities on”.
Socialist Party in Education demands:
Smaller class sizes to allow adequate physical distancing
* Schools should reopen at the start of term with no classes larger than 15 school students.
* Wider opening should only be considered when the evidence of the effects of school opening on infection rates confirms that it is safe to do so.
Full consultation with parents and unions over rotas – no fines, protect those most at risk
* Arrangements for home learning to be produced in consultation with parents and carers to meet priority needs as much as possible.
* Books and IT resources must be made available to those who need them. There must be no fines on those who opt for their children to learn at home.
* Agreement with unions must guarantee that those staff who are, or who live with others at greater risk, can fulfil their duties by working from home.
* Schools can’t be treated differently from other indoor environments. Staff and school students over the age of eleven should wear face coverings while indoors. Staff should be given transparent coverings if needed for facial expression.
Safety first when there are local outbreaks
* Where a case is identified within a school, staff and students within that ‘bubble’ must be closed to allow self-isolation; where there are two or more cases within 14 days, then the whole school will close.
* Where local infection rates exceed the internationally recognised threshold of 50 new cases per 100,000 over seven days, schools should close to all but priority children.
Community test and trace systems that work, full pay if you need to isolate
* We need a reliable community-based testing and tracing system, run through local council, NHS and GP services, not private profiteers.
* All who have to isolate should be supported on full pay.
* Weekly onsite testing of staff to be provided, and for children whose parents request it too.
School unions must use their collective strength to defend safety
* Prepare for a national strike ballot to allow action to be taken if safety remains at risk.
* Support members acting together to assert their legal rights not to work in an unsafe workplace under Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996, which provides for the protection of workers if they decide not to work in an unsafe environment.
Download these demands as a Socialist Party in Education Bulletin for your colleagues and friends from the Home Page of this website