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Editorial: Forced into Covid-ridden classes, teaching unions fight back

THE huge rise in Covid cases in schools and colleges in England and Scotland is deeply worrying.

The fact that secondary-aged children are once again the most infected group in England and that the average primary school class has two children off with Covid shows that something has gone horribly wrong.

But it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Education unions warned that the removal of protective measures such as masks and social distancing and changing the thresholds for sending students home, would lead to a serious rise in infection. Once again, they have been proved correct.

The government’s argument that this is about “reducing disruption to education” is a nonsense. How exactly does mask-wearing cause significant disruption to children’s education?

Can it be in any way comparable to the disruption of spending time off school with a serious illness? Or having no class teacher, or no support staff, because they are at home with a serious illness?

As always with this government, where there is an absence of logic, there are powerful lobby groups behind the scenes.

The staggering incompetence of Gavin Williamson and his successor Nadhim Zahawin is probably to be expected but the activities of groups like Us for Them are deeply disturbing.

Fundamentally, though, this has once again been about this government forcing workers into work above all else, including health, education and ultimately people’s lives.

That is why it is good to see education unions coming together to challenge the government on the woeful lack of ventilation, masks, social distancing and other protective measures.

Throughout this crisis, education unions have repeatedly forced government U-turns to protect the safety of their members, the children they teach and the communities they live in.

From the initial decision to limit attendance in schools and colleges at the outbreak of the pandemic, to the section 44 action in January of this year and beyond, unions have been proved right again and again. They, not the government, have been responsible for preventing the death toll in education being much, much higher.

In doing so, they have frequently overcome their historic limitation of being divided across so many different organisations, by working together and issuing joint demands.

This is another reason to welcome their recent statements as, once again, they are speaking with a united voice for educators and education.

Let us hope that this unity in education continues, not just in fighting for immediate measures to be put in place to prevent the spread of Covid, but on issues such as pay and workload, where there is much to be gained by education unions working together for change.

In terms of the public-sector pay freeze — in reality a cut — it is clear that co-ordinated action across the public sector and indeed the whole trade union movement will be needed in order to defeat this latest attack by a government that seems oblivious to the crucial role that key workers and all workers have played throughout this pandemic.

We know that public-sector pay cuts lead to private-sector pay cuts and job losses. Surely it is time for unity across the public and private sector — on Covid safety and on pay?

We must not be made to pay for their crisis and we will not have our health and our children’s education sacrificed for their profits. It is time to build a fightback and everyone must be involved.

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