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From: The Socialist issue 1102, 23 September 2020: Tory Covid chaos

Search site for keywords: Schools - Children - School - NEU

Dispatches from the front - chaotic schools are not safe!

  (Click to enlarge)

"Already down from seven year groups to four"

Two weeks in and we are already down from seven year groups to four because of whole year groups having to isolate after confirmed cases. Three teaching staff are now confirmed as Covid positive as well.

We are having to think on our feet in terms of distance learning because the work we set for individually isolating pupils must be different to what we set for whole year groups who are isolating. Both of these must be different to what we leave as cover work for isolating teachers.

One of my department members was in tears before 9am recently because this is all so unmanageable and overwhelming, and because being in the school environment is frightening and unpredictable.

What's worse is that engagement with distance learning is an issue for poorer families who don't have internet access or the necessary IT equipment. If routine testing was in place, we could open more safely and ensure all pupils could access learning.

An English teacher and National Education Union (NEU) rep

"I recently taught 120 children over the span of three days"

I am a teacher in an East London primary school. The school is described as larger than average, with a high population of students from low-income households. Our borough has been particularly devastated by the effects of Covid, with a high rate of infection and death.

Although we have been repeatedly told the opposite by the media and government, it is clear that schools are unsafe places and become more unsafe with every passing week. Amid the uncertainty, it is a convenience to believe younger children are not vectors for the virus. The reality is much less clear.

Our school management takes the virus seriously, which is a small mercy. We are lucky enough that the use of face masks or visors is tolerated. We all know of local schools that have banned the use of PPE. The government has repeatedly told us that face masks are 'unnecessary' for adults working in primary schools with little-to-no solid evidence to back this claim.

Cleanliness in the school is a top priority. The flow of people (children and adults alike) is carefully managed. Nevertheless, this all feels like a fruitless endeavour when you enter a small, cramped, unventilated classroom with thirty pupils and sometimes a handful of adults. You stand at the front of the room and ask the children not to approach you. This, of course, doesn't work.

I recently taught 120 children over the span of three days. A colleague leant me some anti-bacterial wipes so that, in an attempt to mitigate disaster, I could at least wipe down some of the equipment between classes.

Throughout the week I attended to first aid issues, I handed out individual resources, I marked books, I corrected pencil grips, I did up shoelaces, I held the hand of a child who had lost a family member. All of this made social distancing impossible.

Teaching younger year groups amplifies this issue. We have all seen the misleading images on the news of big airy classrooms with just a handful of children present. This is not reality.

Teachers are desperate to teach. They have not been provided with a safe space to do so and now they teach in unsafe conditions. Vulnerable staff, pregnant staff, completely unprotected staff, all teach in crowded, poorly ventilated rooms for hours at a time. The lack of tests and the increased waiting time for test results only compounds the danger. Already, we have lost a local teacher. It seems inevitable there will be more deaths as the months go on.

A primary teacher and NEU rep

"Children are so close they are touching"

Children are taught in classes of 33 in small rooms. They are so close that their arms are touching. In many rooms the windows do not open. No masks are worn in class. Masks are supposed to be worn in corridors but this does not always happen. In between lessons corridors, which are really only designed for one person to walk down at a time, have three rows of children walking in either direction or lining up outside classrooms.

A history teacher and NEU rep

"The school does not appear to be cautious at all"

We had a girl in class this week, came in clearly unwell and complaining of a sore throat.

Her temperature was taken, with a reading of 38C, higher than the Covid symptom range. It was taken again in 30 minutes - temperature was again 38C. Told to take again at break. Temperature still at 38C. School said they would phone parents - thought that perseverance had paid off... nope, Mam was asked to bring in Calpol.

When this was challenged the reply was that she was only showing one symptom. She has remained in class all week.

Another child in class sent home to be observed following chest pains when breathing. Back in the next day.

Had a child off for three days with a 'cold' - no test asked for. A number of children off throughout the week with 'colds', and while it may be the case that that is all they have, the school does not appear to be cautious at all.

We have a staff meeting soon with 20 staff all in the same room (hall). While social distancing may be feasible, it still doesn't feel safe.

Risk assessments mean nothing if they are not followed. It is becoming increasingly clear that attendance figures are of more importance than the health and wellbeing of pupils, staff, and their families for a number of schools.

A primary teacher and NEU rep

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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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Article dated 23 September 2020

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