School reopenings: ballot on safety

Submitted by AWL on 2 September, 2020 - 8:19 Author: A London teacher

The National Education Union (NEU) favours the reopening of English and Welsh schools in September, without qualification. That is positive.

But the union is not advocating action to stop unsafe or careless practice by school managements. It is not even publicising to members Section 44 of the 1996 Employment Rights Act, which allows workers to quit work areas where they see a “serious or imminent danger”.

The NEU leaders proceed as if they are writing a comment piece in the Guardian, or a blog, rather than running a campaigning union. There are plenty of issues we need action to fix, immediately: the lack of testing kits available in schools; the need to increase school funding for virus precautions; the need to bring contracted-out services in-house; the need to ensure all staff can be paid their normal wages and afford to self-isolate.

The union could usefully organise a national ballot on safety in schools (on testing and cleaning), disaggregated so local groups can act on local issues if necessary.

The NEU guidance (as of 31 August) states: “Government needs a Plan B in the event that its guidance does not work or if cases are higher by the time we get to September,” without saying what Plan B. Some of the NEU’s 10-point “recovery plan” is just out of date, and it include vapid stuff like: “GCSE and A levels must be changed to provide a fair assessment of young people’s attainment”.

Leaders of the bosses’ federation CBI have called for GCSEs to be abolished. The NEU should be at least as bold.

Performance tables and Ofsted should be abolished, not suspended, as the NEU suggests.

The Labour Party has now called for the A Level and GCSE exams set for May-June 2021 to be moved back a month. But the Tories already mooted that weeks ago.

Socialist Worker’s front page headline states, “Stop Johnson’s return to unsafe… schools”, and the text states: “Their demand for a return to work and school has nothing to do with our mental health and well-being. It has only to do with profits.”

In fact even Johnson knows new Covid spikes will hit profits. Whether Johnson is willing to spend extra money on schools, or laptops for poorer kids, or internet access for all families, or adequate test and trace, is another matter.

At the same time, no SWP member in any school is attempting to stop schools opening. Perhaps the SWP has been too busy carrying General Secretary Kevin Courtney’s bags, or shining his shoes, which is their role in the union.

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