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As teachers, we have a duty to safeguard the children in our care – not put them at risk of Covid-19

Education unions must continue to put pressure on the government to keep schools shut until they meet the ‘five tests’ for safety, says ROBERT POOLE

WITHIN an hour of Prime Minister Boris Johnson making his announcement on Sunday night, nearly 50,000 teachers responded to a survey by the National Education Union with a resounding No to the government’s plans to reopen schools. 

A staggering 85 per cent of members said that they disagreed with the plans to restart lessons for reception, year one and year six from June 1. 

Parents have also taken to social media to question how schools might stop the spread of Covid-19 when they struggle to stop the spread of nits. How can you enforce social distancing with a five-year-old?

The National Education Union released a statement describing the move as “reckless” at a time when our communities are still being ravaged by coronavirus. 

The union has repeatedly asked the government to publish the scientific basis it will use to justify reopening the schools, but it has repeatedly been ignored. 

This is perhaps unsurprising when research published by the University of East Anglia showed that school closures are the single most effective way to slow the spread of the virus. 

With schools remaining closed till September in many other countries, teachers are questioning the true reason for reopening schools so soon. 

Over the past few days, teachers have been under attack from the right-wing media. The Mail on Sunday talked about “the Blob” — a term invented by Michael Gove to denigrate teachers and their unions — sabotaging school reopening plans. 

The sudden wave of attacks on teachers feels so timed as to not be a coincidence. I suspect we will see a return to the rhetoric of Gove and his “enemies of promise.” Teachers will be derided once again as Marxists and militants. But, at the end of the day, teachers want to be back in school. 

We are teachers because that is what we love to do: teach. That doesn’t mean, though, that we should be sacrificed on the altar of herd immunity. It doesn’t mean we should be guinea pigs for some sort of Darwinistic experiment dreamt up by Dominic Cummings.

There are now reports coming out of New York of inflammatory complications linked to Covid-19 that have led to the deaths of three children. 

As teachers we act in loco parentis. We have a duty to safeguard the children in our care. 

I will not be sending my children to school and I would not expect anyone else to. We should not be facilitating this reckless strategy.  

There seems to be a lot of confusion about how children are affected by Covid-19. There seem to be fewer confirmed cases in children than adults. However, a study in the Lancet conducted in China showed that children were just as likely to have been infected. 

This means that the lower rates are down to something else. Less testing due to milder symptoms or the success of school closures? 

This leads to the scary thought that they are in fact silently spreading the virus. While the science is still unclear we need to keep schools closed.

Education unions must continue to put pressure on the government to keep schools shut until they meet the five tests: 

Test 1: Much lower numbers of Covid-19 cases; 

Test 2: A national plan for social distancing; 

Test 3: Testing, testing, testing!; 

Test 4: Whole-school strategy for testing if there is a single case; 

Test 5: Protection for the vulnerable. 

Now is the time for union members to stand up and be counted. To realise that their membership card isn’t just an insurance policy but a statement of solidarity. 

Members must follow their union’s guidance. This is not the time for “heroes.” Not the time for going “above and beyond” — it is the time to stand with your fellow members, even if that means making tough decisions. Even if that means refusing to enter a dangerous workplace. 

To parody the government’s new slogan, Stay home, Join a union, Save lives.

There is legislation out there to protect workers. It wasn’t put in place by kind bosses. It was fought for by your predecessors. Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act gives you the right to walk away from unsafe work, as does Section 7 of the Health & Safety at Work Act. 

We need to be sending a message loud and clear to the government about this. Last week there was a lot of talk about mourning the dead. Well, today is the day we need to start fighting like hell for the living.

Robert Poole is an NEU activist.


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