The big union Unite has signed up to the “education unions' statement on the safe reopening of schools". This statement calls on the government “to step back from 1 June” and identifies the following core principles:
• Safety and welfare of pupils and staff as the paramount principle
• No increase in pupil numbers until full rollout of a national test and trace scheme
• A national Covid-19 education taskforce with government, unions and education stakeholders to agree statutory guidance for safe reopening of schools
• Consideration of the specific needs of vulnerable students and families facing economic disadvantage
• Additional resources for enhanced school cleaning, PPE and risk assessments
• Local autonomy to close schools where testing indicates clusters of new Covid-19 cases"
Those principles are a good starting point. However, there is little evidence that education workers have been made adequately aware of these principles or how Unite will fight for them to be adhered to.
The NEU fleshes out some of these principles further and makes more substantive demands in their five tests before schools should open more widely.
Test 1 : Much lower numbers of Covid-19 cases than there are now and extensive arrangements for testing and contact tracing.
Test 2 : A national plan for social distancing and PPE to be agreed with the unions.
Test 3 : Testing, testing, testing!: Comprehensive access to regular testing for children and staff.
Test 4 : Whole school strategy: testing across the school to be put in place when cases occur.
Test 5 : Protection for the vulnerable : Vulnerable staff, and staff who live with vulnerable people, must work from home.
These tests have been supported by the BMA and rolled out by that union in such a way that that their reps and members are empowered to fight for these. Union members are told not to go back until their union feels these tests are met.
For standing up for the safety of staff, pupils and the wider community education unions have come under sustained and vicious attack from government ministers and others in the media. A concerted strategy is at play to bully education workers to open schools more widely without these key demands around safety being met by demonising their unions.
Rank and file members of Unite need to mobilise as much as we can i these strange times to stand in full solidarity with education workers and their unions for standing up for safety in schools and condemn the vicious attacks upon them in the media. Unite has been very quiet on this front.
We also need all Unite branches and activists to let education workers know we support their efforts to stop the Westminster government’s plans to open English schools for whole year groups from 1 June. A decision driven by economics rather than clear science or safety concerns.
Unite needs to adopt the same 5 tests that the NEU have set and make sure all of our members and reps in the education sector are aware of this and feel empowered to fight with the other education unions for these tests to be met. The government is well versed in salami tactics to isolate the trade unions taking action. We can't let that happen.
Unite should try to mobilise peoole in our huge membership and in the community to support education workers by circulating the demands and asking for parents and carers to sign statements and petitions to demand the government rethinks its approach and delays school returns until the tests are met.
Unite has influence in the Labour Party. It should use this to call on Labour councils and the Labour Party in general to support education workers, work closely with their unions and advance their demands for the 1 June return to be scrapped and no wider return until the tests are met.