Last night the main trade unions representing school staff in Britain authored an open letter addressed to school and college leaders to make it clear that any re-opening of educational facilities in June (at this stage) will endanger our communities. The letter stated:
“Scientific evidence is yet to be released that establishes that the measures contained within the DfE guidance are capable of ensuring the risk to pupils, staff and the wider community is reduced to an acceptable level. We believe it is important you fully understand the potential liability you are exposing yourself to by following the current deeply flawed guidance.”
But tragically the Blairite leader of Leicester’s Labour Council once again failed to fully and actively support workers when he released a public statement earlier today. City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby, a former teacher himself, said:
“The Government’s announcement that it wishes more children to return to schools from 1st June has caused understandable concern and unreasonable pressure on schools. The risks had not been fully assessed by the Government and the many unanswered question were not discussed with school leadership, staff, unions or Councils. My colleagues and I share these legitimate concerns. For this reason, I would like to make it clear that there is no pressure from the Council for opening to a wider intake on June 1st or on any other particular date.”
This is very weak indeed, especially when you consider that more than 800 people have been confirmed as having COVID-19 in Leicester (with more than 200 dying). If Sir Peter Soulsby really believes what he writes he should be supporting the trade unions in opposing the reopening of our schools not just saying he will exert no pressure to open schools!
But at least Soulsby gets one thing right when he emphasises that “the Council will not be taking enforcement action to ensure attendance.” This means that parents, where possible, should definately keep their children away from schools until the government answers the questions that have been posed to them by school workers and their trade unions.
What we do know already is that conditions in the schools across the country that have remained open (to educate the children of key workers) have already been unable to take the necessary precautions to safeguard our communities. Thus, when the National Education Union (NEU) carried out a survey of nearly 2,000 teachers working in such schools, they found out that “around a quarter said their school did not have sufficient soap and/or hand sanitiser” with the same proportion saying “there was no routine of hand washing at their school.” Making matters worse around “61% of respondents said they were ‘concerned’ or ‘very concerned’ about the social distancing measures in their school for pupils.” (NEU survey conducted over the weekend of May 2-3)
In a demonstration of the type of actions that need to be undertaken by all unions the Unison branch in Salford (which admittedly some distance away) wrote to all their members on Monday to say that any school that plans to open on any date “for children other than those currently supported must demonstrate compliance with the conditions set out in the [joint unions’ ‘Coronavirus workplace checklist’] document, and must do so with the direct involvement of recognised trade unions.” Furthermore, the union branch added:
“We are calling on Salford City Council to take its responsibilities seriously and to declare openly and publicly that it will actively resist – and support staff and their unions to resist – the further opening of any school or educational/childcare setting that has not actively demonstrate its compliance with these requirements to its staff, their trade unions, parents and the local authority. As such, this email will be forwarded to relevant Council officers and local politicians, as well as operators of non-LA schools and other settings.”
If Labour councillors, MPs, and City Mayors up-and-down the country – including in Leicester – made such public statements in support of education unions then the country will be far less likely to suffer further unnecessary coronavirus deaths. Already many Labour councils have responded positively to such demands, but alas, not here in Leicester.