Fighting Covid in Our Schools: How to Avoid a Big Bang

Leicester not only suffers from high rates of poverty, but we have also suffered in lockdown for much longer than the rest of the country. So, taken together these two factors help explain why the covid infection rates still remain so high in our city.

On February 12, in Leicester the infection rate per 100,000 population had dropped to 253, and since then has remained at that same level, even increasing a tiny bit to 255 cases per 100,000 population on February 19.

Compare this to the England infection rate which between the same days had dropped from 144 cases per 100,000 population to 120 cases.

More worrying still is that certain areas of the city still have significantly higher infection rates. If we just look at areas with more than 300 cases per 100,000 population then for the week ending on February 12 just one area met this criterion, that was Beaumont Leys which had an infection rate of 456 cases per 100,000 population.

The most recent data for Leicester (for the week ending February 18) however shows that there are now three areas of our city where infection rates exceed 300 cases per 100,000 population. These areas are Stocking Farm & Mowmacre (461 cases per 100,000 population), Abbey Park (451 cases per 100,000 population), and Rushey Meade South (441 cases per 100,000 population).

These infection rates are some of the highest in the country, and so people will be rightly concerned that the government plans to force all our schools to open as part of their so-called “big bang” on March 8. Nevertheless, not everyone supports such a dangerous reopening strategy and that includes the government’s own scientific advisors!

Schools workers are however better prepared than the government and throughout the pandemic have been putting forward sensible proposals for how our country might eventually return to some form of normality. So, tomorrow (on Wednesday 24 February) the national executive committee of the National Education Union will be discussing the following safety critical motion, which I for one hope gets passed. The motion states:

Motion for Executive on 8 March reopening

The Executive believes that:

  • Boris Johnson’s call for all schools to open fully in England on 8 March is reckless.
  • The government has ignored the warning contained in last week’s joint statement that this “could trigger another spike in Covid infections, prolong the disruption of education, and risk throwing away the hard-won progress made in suppressing the virus over the course of the latest lockdown”.

In response, the National Education Union calls on all employers to abide by their responsibilities to ensure the health, safety and welfare of all employees and other persons affected by the employers’ actions, through:

  • Ensuring no school opens more widely unless R is less than 1 and the local infection rate is below 100 per 100,000 confirmed cases per week.
  • Ensuring no school opens with more than 50% class sizes until the rate is below 50 per 100,000 confirmed cases per week.
  • The wearing of masks by staff and school students in secondary and post 16 classes which is also strongly advised in primary.
  • Staff who are assessed to be at higher risk of severe illness, or who live with people at high risk, are able to support teaching and learning from home.
  • Measures being in place to protect (i) the welfare of students through a focus on a recovery curriculum that recognises the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of children and young people; and (ii) the welfare of staff through ensuring reasonable workload.
  • Agreed risk assessments that ensure acceptable measures are in place in every workplace including control measures around ventilation. This will be key in Early Years, Special and other settings where students may not be able to securely follow social distancing and other mitigation measures.

Where employers fail to meet these necessary steps, the National Union will:

  • Advise the use of Section 44 where members face a serious and imminent danger to their health and safety.
  • Support industrial action ballots at school, District and Regional level to secure these steps.”

Proposed: Kirstie Paton (Inner London); Seconded: Nicky Downes (Coventry)

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