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TEACHERS say it’s too soon to open schools. Parents say it’s too soon to open schools and now doctors say it’s too soon to open schools.
The Tories and the right-wing press say it’s time to open schools. Who do you trust?
At the crux of the matter is trust. After years of brutal austerity, we simply don’t trust the motives of the Tory government.
Ministers have tried to control the narrative of this issue by saying that the reason for opening schools so early is to help disadvantaged children.
Can we trust them? Well, their claims feel rather cynical, owing to the fact that these children are disadvantaged because of Tory austerity.
The widening gap between rich and poor should not be ignored, but sending these children back too early is reckless.
Had the reopening started with exam classes only, then maybe we would have trusted them that this was about education.
As it is, the focus is actually on the youngest: nursery and primary-school classes.
These children are the least able to social distance and the most likely to need a parent to stay off work to home-school them. As it is, we see the agenda is set by big business.
The government’s argument so far has been that it is “following the science” — but whose science?
Are these the same scientists who said it was safe to return elderly people to care homes without testing?
That advice has so far led to 23,000 excess deaths this year.
The Department for Education’s top scientist claimed he hadn’t even been consulted.
In fact the recently published overview of scientific advice seems at times to conflict with the government’s actions.
It states that there is a “low degree of confidence” that children are infected and a “low degree of confidence” that they transmit less and that “for older children there is not enough evidence yet to determine whether susceptibility to disease is different to adults.”
So we don’t know if older children will die from Covid-19 and we don’t know if younger children will give it to everyone else.
The British Medical Association, Britain’s largest doctors’ union, has written to the National Education Union, saying it stands in “full support” of the union and its five tests.
The BMA believes that the number of infections is too high and the science too conflicting to make a safe decision.
The letter stated that there was only a “relatively small amount of research available” and quoted new research conducted in Berlin that shows that children are just as likely to be infected and may be as infectious.
The paper actually states that “transmission potential in schools and kindergartens should be evaluated using the same assumptions of infectivity as for adults.”
Michael Gove, the man most reviled and least trusted by teachers everywhere, was wheeled out at the weekend to reassure us that all was well.
He even guaranteed the safety of teachers. When asked if teachers will be safe, he replied with a firm Yes.
This may have set our minds at ease if he hadn’t immediately contradicted himself by saying: “The only way ever to ensure that you never catch coronavirus is to stay at home completely.” Clear advice that I’m happy to follow at last.
What next? We need to build a coalition of parents, governors, teachers and members of our communities.
Anti-union laws make it almost impossible for the unions representing education staff to call a strike by June 1.
So it will be up to members and parents to put pressure on their schools and elected representatives.
Support is growing. Hartlepool Council has said its schools will not reopen at the start of next month and the elected Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson says he is “not about to take risks with children’s lives or with staff and teaching professionals’ lives” and will not be opening schools in Liverpool until it is safe for children to return to school.
Anderson is no stranger to putting himself in conflict with central government and last year said that if the government wanted to implement more cuts, they’d have to “come here and try and do it themselves — but they will have a hell of a fight on their hands.”
Hopefully more city mayors and council leaders will see this is the moment to stand up for the workers they were elected to represent.
As it becomes more and more apparent that teachers, unions and the general public do not support school reopenings, the right-wing media are increasing their attacks, and we should expect to see more in the weeks to come.
The Daily Mail on Friday appeared to call for the martyrdom of all teachers with a headline declaring that “militant unions” should let teachers “become heroes.”
The usual faux-militaristic call to arms of course implies that teachers and trade unionists calling for no return to schools until it is safe to do so are cowards.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson wrote in the Daily Mail that teachers should be ready to “do their duty.”
Sixty-five education workers, 26 of those teachers, have already “become heroes,” according to the Office for National Statistics, and that only includes those under the age of 65, with numbers likely to rise.
If we are evoking old wars, then, rather than focusing on the Blitz spirit, perhaps we should be looking at World War I.
Once again we’re seeing public schoolboys “urging their troops over the top.” The old lie: “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.”
Robert Poole is an NEU activist.
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