Schools in England are reopening today. The mood amongst teachers, students, and parents is one of unease and anxiety. Rather than opening in the knowledge that adequate safety measures are in place to protect schools and communities, many are expecting school closures in the coming weeks, as the ‘R-rate’ of infection rises.
This confused and chaotic approach is in keeping with a Tory government that has prioritised the economy and big business over workers’ safety and public health at every turn.
Shifting the blame
Tory ineptitude has led to low confidence in the ability of the government to safely reopen schools. This has been reflected in petitions against fines for parents who would rather keep their children home, alongside concern from teachers about inadequate safety measures.
Most have long stopped expecting anything clear or coherent from the government. Their lack of clarity on reopening; their shifting of responsibility for key decisions (such as wearing masks in communal spaces) to individual head teachers; and their constant U-turns: all of these come as no surprise.
At every step of the way, the Tory government’s advice to schools has been frequently changed, vague, and issued with very limited time for implementation. Understandably, teachers are weary, angry, and worried.
Added to this, teachers are being blamed for spreading the virus in schools. This is yet another way for the Tories to wash their hands of responsibility for a rise in the R-rate as schools reopen. After all, it is far easier to blame teachers for not following so-called safety measures, than to actually plan for an alternative reopening that would require spending on more teaching spaces and staff, as the NEU [National Education Union] are demanding.
NEU activists are rightly proud of our successful fight against the wider reopening of schools last term, when COVID-19 cases were higher. Now the union is fighting for: greater safety measures; a strengthened track-and-trace procedure; a plan-B in the event of school closures; and investment in pupil wellbeing and disadvantaged students. Even the children’s commissioner has called for a raft of spending and a ‘Nightingale moment’ for schools.
The NEU has also come out fighting on exams, with a petition to change assessments for 2021 to make the process fairer for disadvantaged pupils. Recognising the systemic disadvantage that poorer pupils experience every year, Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, said of this year’s exams: “This isn’t an aberration, it is a revelation.”
But the unequal learning experience experienced by hundreds of thousands of children is due to poverty and wider material conditions under capitalism. These will not be fixed simply by changing the examination process. System change is required to eradicate poverty and the educational barriers that it erects.
Even head teachers have attacked the incompetent education secretary Gavin Williamson for failing to listen to or work with teachers and school leaders. We all want pupils back in schools. It is the manner in which this happens that needs to be reconsidered.
Rather than whipping up anti-teacher rhetoric and refusing to engage with their representatives, teachers should be placed in control of the reopening of schools, assessing what is safe and possible.
As with every sector, it is workers themselves who know best how workplaces should operate. Provided with proper funding, and with scientific evidence at their disposal, they should be the ones making decisions – not morons elevated to power as representatives of the ruling class. Never has there been a clearer need for workers’ control.