Tory schools chaos
Unions must fight for safety
Sheila Caffrey, teacher and Socialist Party member
Schools and colleges have returned with bulging classrooms and packed corridors.
The establishment media’s repeated photos over the summer – of three children sat spaced out on a carpet, or just two children in a computer suite – have been exposed as lies.
Classrooms of over 30 and corridors of 100 students, just separated with yellow tape, are the reality. School workers are calling for a mix of measures to help prevent further cases – and a second wave, which many have predicted with the return of schools.
In June, ‘bubbles’ – group sizes the government suggests are safe for mixing in – were capped at 15. Many schools had much lower numbers than that.
However, the government has now lifted this. My primary classroom has 32 children in, and is joined with another the same size!
With lunchtime staff, cleaners and education support, we will have 14 members of staff who will be regularly in the classroom through the week. If one person tests positive, this could spread through the 78 people like wildfire.
In secondary schools and colleges, bubbles are containing whole year groups, which could be 200 young people, as well as the members of staff. This far exceeds the 30 we’re told are safe to attend a wedding!
Social distancing in schools is a myth – and the government is still trying to portray it. Most children sit two to a desk, with desks in rows. To fit 30-plus in a classroom, there is space for narrow walkways, but certainly not one to two metres.
Any sign of a cough or sniffle will be passed like a Mexican wave from one end to another before the child can even leave the classroom. This will only be exacerbated in winter months with the lack of ventilation in classrooms. Many only have tiny windows, and some are entirely sealed in.
Face coverings became a focus in August as the rise in cases in Scottish schools was becoming alarming. Several schools had already closed their doors after confirmed outbreaks.
The World Health Organisation says face coverings are essential. Scientists and health workers have been recommending them for some time.
But the incompetence and callousness of the government has yet again been shown. Rather than listening to the advice and evidence, the Tories put it on headteachers to decide, a week before return, trying to aim the backlash at schools rather than the government.
Education staff have been calling for testing in schools, with quick identification and then isolation of bubbles, to prevent a second wave. Weekly tests for all staff would help find cases before symptoms show. The same should be available for children and families who can’t access other testing facilities.
The government has provided tests to schools – but only a handful. This is not investing in safety! It is another attempt to create the illusion that they care. All they really care about is the profit demands of big business and getting the capitalist economy moving again.
Like everyone else, education staff can’t wait for things to get back to normal. But these insufficient measures and the risk of infection put us further away from getting back to normal.
There has been a marked increase in education staff handing in their notices, unable to return. Through the summer, internet chat rooms were full of questions over will-writing and alternative jobs. No one should have to choose between their livelihood and their life, but that is the choice many feel faced with.
Schools are trying their best for their communities, wedged between a rock and a hard place. Schools have been browbeaten with conflicting messages from the government for six months.
This followed cuts to funding over many years; smaller classrooms built; outdoor spaces sold off, preventing outdoor learning. Promises such as laptops for poorer students and money for tutoring either arrive late or not at all.
On the evening of Friday 28 August, the government sent its latest missive to schools. 40 more pages of what they should and should not be doing.
With some schools already returned, and others due to return in three days, this gave no allowance for workload over the bank holiday weekend. Instead it sent headteachers into a spin, as many desperately tried to rewrite procedures for the latest government demands.
None of this should surprise us. This incompetence and disregard for ordinary people has been shown throughout the pandemic. The situation for students in elite private schools is very different.
School workers and the children we teach are just the latest casualties in the Tories’ desire for profit at any cost, and disregard for the working class. Education staff and our unions must keep on pushing for proper, national safety measures, and explaining this to parents and students. One death in our communities is too many if it could have been prevented.
- A socialist programme for safe schools: see ‘September school return must be safe for all workers and students’ at socialistparty.org.uk