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Martin Powell-Davies, Lancashire National Education Union (personal capacity)

At last, some opposition politicians are starting to speak out clearly about the woeful failure of the Tory government to control the spread of the virus. But words alone can be ignored.

So now it’s time for the National Education Union (NEU) to back up words with action and call strike ballots in the worst-affected areas.

The publicity around the union’s call for a two-week ‘circuit-breaker’ over half-term, including schools, has already helped to break the silence over how our packed classrooms are operating, as one of the key vectors driving the ‘Covid second wave’ of rising infections and deaths.

Public Health England’s own data now confirms that test positivity rates are rising sharply, and most of all among teenagers and young adults. Some of the highest incidences of Covid outbreaks are being recorded in schools. These are recorded across all sectors – nursery, primary, special and secondary.

The virus is being carried into schools, transmitted between pupils and staff, then carried back out into communities again. That’s inevitable when schools are operating with full classes without any possibility of adequate social distancing, with 30 or more children and adults sharing the same, often poorly ventilated, classroom space. The risks are greatest in tier two and three areas with the highest infection rate, especially for staff at risk who are not being allowed to work at home.

Yet the government continues to ignore reality. Lancashire councillors reported that when they spoke up in negotiations about transmission in schools and workplaces being the real problem, they were told by government officials that these were ‘off-limits’.

So Lancashire is now in tier three, without adequate financial support for workers affected, but also with school safety continuing to be ignored. For the sake of staff and for the safety of our communities too, it’s high time to take the action needed to make sure that ministers cannot ignore us any longer.

That’s why emergency NEU members’ meetings have been called in the first tier three areas of Lancashire and Liverpool. Local officers agree that escalation to a higher tier must be met with an escalation in the union’s strategy. With infection rates on the rise, we must not delay.

Socialist Party in Education is calling for:

  • Emergency NEU meetings to be called in tier two and three areas
  • Local and national leadership to put the case for urgent action and to put full resources into winning area-wide strike ballots