The Government is clearly determined to press ahead with a full opening of schools in England in September – but without taking the steps necessary to avoid a further acceleration of infection within our communities, nor to protect the safety of staff, pupils and their families.
Scientific debate about the exact extent of virus transmission from younger children continues but there is clear and growing international evidence of transmission within school settings. Improved test/trace/isolate/support systems must urgently be put in place to suppress the virus and minimise the risks of further outbreaks. Parents and staff unions must also not allow the Government to get away with trying to treat schools differently to other indoor environments.
The Government must provide the funding and resources necessary, and Local Authorities and individual employers must also act, to ensure the following are in place for September:
- Staff and school students over the age of 11 to wear face coverings while indoors; local risk-assessments to include staggered outdoor breaks, sanitising when resuming wearing a covering, provision of transparent coverings to enable access to lipreading and facial expression.
- Attendance in class will initially be on a rota basis so that classes in indoor classrooms do not exceed a maximum of 15 school students, while those not in school are taught through distance learning; to be reviewed based on the evidence of wider school opening on wider infection rates,
- Rotas should be produced in consultation with parents and carers to aim to meet priority needs as much as possible and also with staff and unions to ensure that those who are, or who live with others at greater risk, can fulfil their duties from home;
- There will be no fines on parents and carers who opt for their children to learn from home and appropriate support, including books and IT resources, will be provided where required.
- Weekly testing of staff will be provided, extending to children whose parents request it, where local infection rates are causing concern;
- All staff who have to isolate will be on full pay (indeed, for contact tracing systems to work reliably, all those having to self-isolate should also be supported in this way);
- Where a case is identified within a school, staff and students within that ‘bubble’ will 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 will close to all but priority children; education will otherwise continue through distance learning only until community-based testing and tracing and other local measures enable class teaching to restart safely.
- A fully resourced, reliable community-based testing and tracing system, run through local Council, NHS and GP services.
But it’s clear that this Government will not listen to words alone. That’s why Socialist Party in Education calls on school staff unions to:
- Prepare for a national strike ballot, disaggregated by employer, to allow strike action to be taken if these steps have not been agreed and infection rates continue to pose a threat to the health and safety of members in their workplaces;
- Inform members immediately that they will be facing a serious and imminent danger in their workplace if these conditions are not met and that they will be supported if they use their rights under Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996.
* The demands above have been added to and amended slightly following discussion across the ESN (Education Solidarity Network) on 13 August. Socialist Party in Education are supporting the “Keep our Schools Safe” Day of Action called by the ESN on Friday 21 August – support protests in your area!