Taken from the latest issue of ‘The Socialist’ : https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/1116/31818 – see link for further reports from education workers and parents on the Socialist Party’s main website. See below for this article in the January 2021 SPinED newsletter.

by Martin Powell-Davies, NEU Deputy General Secretary election candidate

School staff should take confidence. Our mass refusal to accept unsafe working conditions forced the government to U-turn after only one day of the new school term.

Only 24 hours earlier, Boris Johnson was claiming schools were safe. He then had to admit that schools act as “vectors for transmission” of the virus after all – something that we all knew months ago. The cancellation of Sats, GCSEs and A-levels soon followed too.

We should learn important lessons. We were able to succeed by acting together, asserting our legal rights to a safe workplace through ‘Section 44’ of the Employment Rights Act 1996. We achieved more in a few days than petitions and letter writing to ministers had achieved in months.

The education unions’ work is far from over. Any celebrations over the U-turn have sadly only been short-lived. It soon became clear that schools aren’t really ‘closed’ at all.

Everyone is working under highly stressful conditions. Workload is rising. And the threat of Ofsted monitoring is being raised again.

Too many schools are making unreasonable expectations, particularly over online learning. Some have told staff they have to attend work every day, even though the lockdown regulations say: “Everybody should work from home where possible”.

Support staff have been under particular pressure. They should be included on rotas to support learning from home too.

Above all, too many classrooms remain dangerously full. The definition of ‘critical workers’ has been applied far too widely.

Nursery classes have been told they must remain fully open. Special schools have also been under pressure to accept every pupil.

It is putting more lives in danger and more pressure on an overwhelmed NHS. We have to insist that numbers in classrooms are cut back.

We recognise the pressure on our school communities. Children need more resources at home and parents/carers should be eligible for full pay when they have to stay at home to provide childcare.

We can’t let government failures be used to browbeat us into accepting unsafe working conditions. Look at the data. The UK situation is stark.

Unless we remain firm, infections and deaths will continue to rise. That is of no help to anyone.

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