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24 February 2021

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Johnson's 'road map' for schools: Act together to protect safety

Safe phased return based on infection rates not politicians' dates

Empty Classroom

Empty Classroom   (Click to enlarge)

Martin Powell-Davies, Socialist Party in education (SPinED)

Boris Johnson has announced his 'road map' to ease lockdown, including a timetable for full reopening of schools in England on 8 March. The youngest primary school pupils in Wales began returning in full on 22 February.

Education unions must be ready to respond with collective action to any reckless proposal which puts the government's short-term economic interests ahead of the long-term safety of our schools and communities.

In a welcome move, nine education unions and governance organisations issued a statement warning that a full return of all pupils would be "reckless", bringing "nearly ten million pupils and staff into circulation in England, close to one fifth of the population... It 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."

Even during lockdown, schools have still been open to vulnerable pupils and children of key workers. Nobody wants to stop schools opening fully for longer than is necessary. Online learning, if set to the demands of an unchanged curriculum, puts pressure on staff, students, parents and carers.

However, as the joint statement says: "It would be counterproductive if there is a danger of causing another surge in the virus, and the potential for a further period of lockdown. Wider opening must be safe and sustainable."

The warning is correct but, sadly, it will take more than joint statements to make ministers think again. It was the action of tens of thousands of education staff asserting their individual rights under 'Section 44' - not to attend an unsafe workplace - that forced Johnson to back down in January. Education unions now need to have the courage to advise members of their rights once again.

But education unions, and especially the National Education Union (NEU), need to go further. We must prepare members to use their collective strength, including through balloting for industrial action, to resist any unsafe return, based on clear and specific demands about what constitutes a safe wider opening.

Our demands can be objectively based on the advice of experts, like Independent Sage, who have analysed the latest scientific evidence and the government's own data. For example, they have pointed out that infection rates fell least in January among primary-aged children - precisely those settings where attendance has remained high. This is yet another indication of the role schools can play in community transmission.

What are we demanding?

Socialist Party members in the NEU are helping to draft a motion to be debated at the union's executive on 24 February, based on the demands below.

The NEU calls on all employers to abide by their responsibilities to ensure the health, safety and welfare of all employees and other persons affected by employers' actions, through:

Where employers fail to meet these necessary steps, the national union will:

An online meeting for NEU members on this issue has been called by Martin Powell-Davies' campaign for deputy general secretary - 28 February, 4pm-5:30pm. You can get the Zoom details by subscribing for updates at martin4dgs.co.uk

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The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

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The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

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In The Socialist 24 February 2021:


Where's the road map to jobs and wages Boris?

Johnson's 'road map' for schools: Act together to protect safety

Vaccine algorithm can't solve capitalist inequality

Garment workers and Covid: Dying for less than minimum wage

What we think

Starmer's speech a return to New Labour


Justice for Moyied Bashir

Uber drivers win case - they are workers

Social care: End privatisation and let workers decide how it's run

Lessons from history

How militant trade unionism defeated the 1971 Industrial Relations Act

Workplace news

Usdaw elections - right makes gains but Broad Left builds

HMRC: Divisive pay deal leads to expulsions

Hinkley Point electricians fight 'deskilling'

"I'm here to fight for the future education of children in Hackney"

London bus dispute against low pay, pay cuts and longer hours

GMB members continue fight against 'fire and rehire' in British Gas

Scunthorpe steelworks scaffolders: Fifth week of action


Liverpool Unite branch supports 'no cuts' budget strategy

Scottish TUSC election campaign launch

Keep the fighting fund rushing in for a TUSC stand in May

Campaigns news

W. Sussex children's centres on the chopping block

Coventry success building subscriptions

Socialist Students conference - postering

Save John Carroll Leisure Centre

Getting the Socialist out in lockdown

LGBT+ history month

Pride flag is about unity in struggle

Tories tout toilet tensions

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Readers' opinion

Film Review: The White Tiger

Tories admit guilt for asylum seeker neglect

Tories target universities in free speech shakedown

The Socialist Inbox


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Sparks' protest in Cardiff; each week the protest has grown. Sparks are protesting nationally against the role of construction electricians being deskilled. Photo by Rachel Barwell

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