The “Covid consensus” is finally starting to crumble. At last some opposition politicians are starting to speak out clearly about the woeful failure of the Tory Government to control the spread of the virus. But words alone can be ignored. So now it’s time for the NEU to back up words with action and call strike ballots in the worst affected areas.
(Martin Powell-Davies, Lancashire NEU, personal capacity)
The publicity around the Union’s call for a two-week “circuit-breaker” over half-term, including schools, has already helped to break the silence over how our packed classrooms are operating as one of the key vectors driving the “Covid second wave” of rising infections and deaths.
Public Health England’s own data now confirms that test positivity rates are rising sharply, and most of all amongst teenagers and young adults. Some of the highest incidence of Covid outbreaks is being recorded in schools. These are recorded across all sectors – nursery, primary, special and secondary.
The virus is being carried into schools, transmitted between pupils and staff, then carried back out into school communities again. That’s inevitable when schools are operating with full classes without any possibility of adequate social distancing, with 30 or more children and adults sharing the same, often poorly ventilated, classroom space. The risks are greatest in Tier 2 and 3 areas with the highest infection rate, especially for staff at risk who are not being allowed to work at home.
Yet the Government continues to ignore reality. Lancashire councillors reported that when they spoke up in negotiations about transmission in schools and workplaces being the real problem, they were told by Government officials that these were “off-limits”. So Lancashire is now in Tier 3, without adequate financial support for workers affected, but also with school safety continuing to be ignored. For the sake of staff and for the safety of our communities too, it’s high time to take the action needed to make sure that Ministers cannot ignore us any longer.
That’s why emergency NEU members’ meetings have been called in the first “Tier 3” areas of Lancashire and Liverpool City. Local Officers agree that escalation to a higher tier must be met with an escalation in the union’s strategy. With infection rates on the rise, we must not delay.
Socialist Party in Education is calling for:
- Emergency NEU Meetings to be called in Tier 2 and Tier 3 areas
- Local and national leadership to put the case for urgent action and to put full resources into winning area-wide strike ballots
Below is a model motion which could be put to – or by – your NEU Branch:
Our members have worked tirelessly throughout this pandemic and will continue to do so to support pupils. However, with local infection rates continuing to rise, and clear evidence of the part played by schools in that increase, it is clear that schools cannot continue to operate safely with full classes. Action must now be taken to make sure schools are only open in conditions that are safe for students, staff and our local communities.
Local escalation to tier 2 (or 3), but without addressing the issue of school safety, must be met with an escalation in the union’s strategy. Given both the continuing rise in infection rates and the legal timescale needed for balloting, there is also an urgent need to do so.
This Branch therefore agrees to:
1) Call an urgent emergency meeting of NEU members/reps, jointly with other neighbouring branches also placed in a higher tier if possible;
2) Calls on schools and employers to put the following into immediate effect:
● all staff in higher risk groups to work from home
● to reduce class sizes by moving to an agreed rota system
● for all staff to be regularly tested
3) Calls on Government to provide funding for additional resources, spaces and staffing, as well as full pay for parents who have to remain at home to provide childcare.
4) If these measures are not secured, to ask NEU Action Officers to conduct an area-wide industrial action ballot.