Taken from: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/31788/06-01-2021/workers-action-wins-tory-u-turn-on-school-safety

As the rapid retreat over the exams fiasco in the summer showed, this has long been a government that could be forced to U-turn once pressure was applied. It just goes to show what can be achieved when trade unions give a lead.

Confusion still reigns on the details, why many early years settings and special schools have been told they should remain fully open and why Btec vocational exams are still going ahead in the coming week.

As things stand, not just me but, more importantly, my learners have been left without any clarity. This lot can’t even handle their U-turns competently!

The battle in schools is still far from over. We have to make sure that schools operate safely for the priority learners they will be teaching face-to-face; that staff are able to resist unacceptable workload demands around online learning; that learners at home get the laptops and other help they need; and that parents and carers are paid when they need to be at home for childcare reasons.

But, overall, we can be proud that we have helped to push the government back and made sure our communities are a little safer at least.

Martin Powell-Davies, Lancashire NEU member

This is just the beginning of the next stage of the mess in education caused by the Tories. Many headteachers have not caught on or deliberately ignore the changed circumstances of the new variant and crisis in transmission; calling members into schools for inset or to work online from school, even though it is not necessary; and not updating risk assessments before setting up rotas for vulnerable and keyworker children!

Section 44 has to be stuck to in the face of unreasonable requests by headteachers. We need the threat of action to sustain it and win new risk assessments, training and agreements on safe and reasonable online learning, including laptops and wifi for all pupils.

But, most importantly, the union guidance and government diktat is leaving nurseries and special schools believing they have to be fully open, despite the particular vulnerability of nursery and special needs staff, with pupils who need intimate care and cannot socially distance.

Education workers are not even on the list for urgent vaccination. The union leadership finally raised its little finger and the members responded and massively increased in numbers.

But the job of the union is only just beginning. It has to ballot to give the message we are not cannon fodder, and pupils need a socialist education system now.

Louise Cuffaro, Newham NEU branch secretary (personal capacity)

I’m a secondary school rep and had a lot of staff ready and willing to send in Section 44 letters. The past week has transformed union consciousness – we must build on that and keep this momentum.

The rapid switch to online learning will be a huge challenge for teachers and school leaders. We need to balance providing the best education possible to the students with ensuring that teachers’ workload is manageable, and safeguarding is protected.

Schools have been given little to no support or resources from the government to help them make this switch. Even worse is the outrageously short notice this government gives for these decisions. It shows the Tories have no respect for the teaching profession and clearly do not care about students getting a good quality education.

Bradford secondary NEU rep

I have very much mixed feelings. There is an inescapable sense of triumph in seeing the government doing such a U-turn.

They so categorically contradicted the very things they had said only 24 hours previously, that I can’t help but think of Stalinist Russia. And make no mistake they weren’t led by the science, they were pushed by the collective pressure of thousands of trade union members.

Without teachers’ and support staffs’ refusal to go into unsafe schools I do not think we would have a national lockdown. Never forget that in the last week before Christmas this inept and uncaring government was actually threatening legal action against local authorities and headteachers who felt their schools were unsafe and should be shut.

But on the other hand, as a teacher, I was feeling overwhelmed by trying to deliver a day of online lessons, and even more so by messages from young people, whose fragile mental health has already taken such a battering, and who are now full of fears and anxieties for the future.

Chris Holmes, North London teacher

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