WE’RE JUST A MONTH OR SO into the new school year but the summertime hopes that schools might be able to return to some kind of ‘normality’ seem a distant memory. School staff are already exhausted by the constant stress of trying to keep children and colleagues safe, working in ‘bubbles’, managing both full classes and the demands to provide work for pupils self-isolating.

Staff absence is increasing but schools are not being funded for the additional cover costs – let alone being funded to employ the additional staff that would enable smaller, safer, class sizes and reduced workload.

Staff are also working with the constant pressure of knowing that the risk of infection is always present. As infection rates rise, the risk to staff is getting worse too. As the NEU’s new ‘school covid map’ website makes clear, too many staff are working in communities where those rates are dangerously high. For staff who are at higher risk, or live with those that are, the stress and pressure is greater still – yet few are being allowed to work from home as the NEU says they should.

Unlike most workers, school staff are being expected to work in an environment when adequate social distancing is just not possible – with 30 or more students and adults sharing the same classroom. We’re told on the one hand that we shouldn’t complain because children carry less of a risk (although global scientific debate is still far from agreed on that) but then we’re told that it’s students that are to blame for the spikes in university towns. But, just a few months ago, many of those same students were school-aged pupils!

Of course if, as the NEU’s ‘5 tests’ demanded, schools had access to regular testing, then staff would have the reassurance they need as to whether they are Covid-positive or not. Instead, test & trace is in chaos.

IT’S CLEAR THAT THE GOVERNMENT IS FAILING to act to control the virus, failing to protect the livelihoods and welfare of our communities, failing to protect the health and safety of school staff. If they won’t act, then unions must!

The time has passed for just appealing to Government to ‘do the right thing’ and deliver on the NEU’s ‘5 tests’ for school safety. It’s clear the Tories either don’t know how to, or just simply aren’t prepared to do so.

It’s time for unions to act themselves to protect health, safety and welfare – before things get even worse. The NEU’s Special Conference on October 3rd was the opportunity to debate in detail what steps now need to be taken in schools but sadly – as the accompanying reports explain – that didn’t happen. The Union should now be urgently calling meetings of reps to agree a clear plan of action, particularly in areas where high infection rates mean teaching full classes just can’t be safe.

School groups should also take the initiative themselves and ask for backing in taking action to protect safety and oppose unreasonable demands, as set out in the latest advice to reps on the NEU website.

● Meet as a union group to agree your demands for a safe workplace and seek negotiations with your Head/SLT.
● Contact your Branch to support you in escalating action – a ballot for strike action and, if needed, union backing for ‘Section 44’.

Copy and print this article from the latest October 2020 Bulletin of Socialist Party in Education by going to the homepage of this website.

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