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The sickness is the system

The Covid crisis has been brought about by the bumbling of an inept Prime Minister but a rush back to the classrooms is not the answer, writes NEU rep ROBERT POOLE

I WROTE last month that the National Education Union had won a major victory in once again pushing the government into following the advice of its own advisers and moving schools onto remote learning.

Although no teacher wants to be away from the classroom; no teacher wants to spend their days talking to a computer screen rather than a class of lively and inquisitive children; no teacher wants vulnerable pupils to fall through the cracks and miss out on valuable weeks of education.

Despite all this I still stand by my union’s decision to push for in-person teaching to be suspended for the majority of pupils. 

The Department for Education has finally released figures showing that infection rates among teachers and support staff were nearly twice that of the general population.

Either the government had this data and wilfully ignored it or had this data and decided not to analyse it.

Either way, the government must be held accountable for the blood on its hands. Schools are not safe and we will not return to them until they are.

We need to remember, though, that the battle isn’t yet won and spare a thought for our colleagues in nurseries and early years.

As a union we must now continue to push for the closures to be extended to these settings also.

As Gawain Little, a member of the National Education Union national executive, said in a recent blog post: “We will not let our early years colleagues stand alone. Speaking out has been our strength and it is making a difference.”   

The right-wing press and commentators of course have been on the offensive stating that us lazy teachers just want to stay at home.

This seems to ignore the fact that although a great number of us are at home we have not stopped working.

In fact I am now working longer hours than previously. But why let the facts get in the way of a good Tweet, eh?

There was some suggestion of mass vaccinations of teachers over the half-term break, which again completely misses the point that, even if this were possible, it’s not the teachers spreading the virus. It’s the kids. The asymptomatic silent spreaders. 

We should be under no illusion, this is not a one-off event and the response is not merely the bumblings of an inept Etonian and a cabinet of all the talentless.

In the words of Richard D Wolff, “The sickness is the system.”

We cannot return to “normal,” when normal is what has led to over 100,000 deaths in this country.

We are heading for a crash, that is evident. This crash will be blamed upon the pandemic, no doubt, but it should be remembered that this will be the third such crash of this century.

By that I don’t mean in the last 100 years, I mean in the last 20.

This crash was coming before the current crisis evolved, in fact this crash was overdue. 

Capitalism, as we know, goes through cycles of boom and bust.

Though since the global financial crisis of 2008, I don’t really feel like we’ve had a “boom.” 

Perhaps Covid-19 has accelerated this crash — if nothing else it has brought into stark contrast the multiple failings in our system.

Inequality, corruption and systematic racism. It is suggested that it was bubonic plague, Black Death, that triggered the end of feudalism in Europe; it is not a massive leap in the imagination to think that the current plague might raise the consciousness of the masses and trigger yet another upheaval. 

This pandemic — or more so the mishandling of this pandemic — along with prolonged periods of remote learning and the inevitable crash we are facing, will have a massively detrimental effect on some of our learners.

That is not up for debate. The answer, though, is not to force another reckless rush back into the classroom. To do so would lead to yet another spike in cases and deaths.

Remember that schools are the engines of transmission and the pupils the vectors. What we need is a plan firstly for a safe return; secondly for a post-Covid recovery plan for the working-class children worst affected and thirdly a plan for when this happens again. 

I am proud that the NEU made a donation of £1 million to help the most vulnerable pupils let down by the government with the resources they need but this, like all charity, is a failure.

Just as Captain Thomas Moore should not have had to walk around his garden for the NHS, hard-working educators should not have to donate their subs to provide resources for their pupils.

The sickness is the system and the system needs a cure. That cure is socialism. 

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