The Socialist 1 April 2020 |
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Schools: union oversight needed to end chaos in provision under coronavirus
photo National Assembly for Wales (Creative Commons) (Click to enlarge)
A school teacher, North London Socialist Party
Like many other teachers up and down the country, I have been trying to set lessons online for students to continue their education at home. I have also been in school, having volunteered to help with vulnerable students and the children of key workers.
Like the vast majority of teachers I'm happy to do this, on a non-compulsory basis in a safe environment, just so long as my own health and the health of my family permits. However, not all teachers are in this position.
The long-term running down of local authority management of schools, and the government's abdication of responsibility for making key decisions, has thrown responsibility back on individual schools and created a charter for bullying school management.
As a result, there are reports of teachers being ordered to come in, and if they are working from home, subjected to ridiculous accountability measures to demonstrate they have been working the same hours they would have in school.
Contrary to instructions from exam boards, and all common sense, some teachers have even been instructed to continue delivering the curriculum and marking coursework assessments as if nothing had happened!
Even responsible school managements were unclear as to how to implement the long-delayed decision for a shutdown, and whether teachers should be coming in on an opt-in or opt-out basis. It has therefore taken the intervention of teaching unions at local level to ensure that going into the workplace has happened only on a strictly opt-in basis.
Non-teaching staff in schools have not always benefited from this protection. Generations of outsourcing has meant that many site and admin staff now have contracts that will not protect their earnings while the schools are shut.
Similarly, the drive by successive governments towards privately run 'academy' schools means there are no structures to coordinate planning of local resources. Consequently, we are now seeing the farce of large secondary school sites opening each day for only a dozen students, with all the staff and resources needed to ensure their safety, and with no mechanism for pooling facilities more effectively.
Teachers and other education staff are committed to the continuing education, wellbeing and safety of their students in this time of crisis.
The Department for Education, local school managements and local councils should now be coordinating their response, subject to democratic trade union oversight. The education unions should establish all-union committees in every workplace and area to guarantee safe working practices and efficient use of resources.