When the government gave in and closed the schools, it never really closed them. They have remained open to vulnerable children and children of key workers. But now they have extended the definition of ‘key worker’ and ‘vulnerable’. ‘Vulnerable’ now includes those who don’t have access to online learning.
It shows up again that the government never fulfilled its promise to provide laptops or other technology to children who need it. In Newham, almost every child can be counted as vulnerable – in an overcrowded home, no access to a laptop, sharing a phone with siblings.
Newham Council had planned to end their provision of free school meals. Under pressure from campaigners it will now continue.
You have to fight for absolutely everything. Why are we fighting a Labour council for free school meals?
We have spent the whole week trying to hold back the push to open nurseries more fully to pupils. The government left out nurseries and special schools when they finally U-turned and ‘closed’ primary and secondary schools. Our pressure has lowered the numbers attending
The situation for nurseries is complicated. Each nursery’s funding is based on the number of children attending their nursery on the census day, Thursday 21 January.
Funding for nurseries, even outside of Covid, is a massive problem. Many nurseries could cease to exist.
In the National Education Union (NEU), we have been campaigning on this for some time. But everything is being exposed by Covid.
Through the health and safety and risk assessments we had won, the local authority was mostly agreeing with us for nurseries to do the same as other schools – and only have key worker and vulnerable children. Then, all of a sudden, there was this huge push.
NEU members in nurseries began contacting us. They said headteachers were telling them that they are being pressured by the local authority officers to get as many children in as possible for the census day. The council was telling the NEU one thing, and the nurseries another.
Finally, on Wednesday evening before census day, the Department for Education, under pressure from unions, agreed that they would top up the funding for children not present. By that time it was too late as the drive to increase numbers had already happened.
We recruited more members to the union that week, especially in nursery schools. Nurseries that are attached to primary schools are more likely to have an active NEU group, and so are more likely to have restricted the numbers attending.
And we have been recruiting workplace reps in the five or six standalone nursery schools in Newham. We have got them organised and are now looking to survey our members over whether to take action to ensure that nurseries are not fully open.
The government has now finally admitted that this new variant could be more fatal and more transmissible. I have been dealing with members in nurseries who are over 60. They don’t feel safe working with limited numbers of key worker and vulnerable children, let alone having all children in. We need to protect members like this in our workplaces as well as in the wider community.
Louise Cuffaro, Newham NEU District Secretary