Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page:

From The Socialist newspaper, 27 May 2020

Schools aren't safe

Workers, unions and parents must decide when they are


photo   (Click to enlarge)

Louise Cuffaro, NEU Newham branch secretary (pc) and Socialist Party

It's reckless. It's unsafe. It flies in the face of all advice from scientists and from teachers. The schools must not reopen on Monday 1 June.

The Tories have had to say they didn't mean the 1 June reopening date for England 'firmly', but they clearly did. It doesn't feel to me, or my members, or parents that the government has rowed back at all.

Everyone is supposed to be socially distancing outside school, but somehow when you get inside school it's not so bad? The government says you can have 15 children in nursery, in reception, in Year One, in Year Six!

They haven't seen their friends for goodness knows how long. They're young children. They don't understand. We don't have the facilities or space to properly social distance, even if that alone was enough to make it safe.

Look carefully at what they're proposing, especially in the younger age groups. They're not going to be able to play with their toys. What if one child picks up a coloured pencil that the other child just used?

And there are no facilities to look after children and nurture them in what must be quite a traumatic time for them. Many in Newham have lost people in their families.

To return to school in these circumstances - it's reckless.

But in fact, schools never closed. The National Education Union (NEU) is absolutely happy to carry on with a rota that cares for vulnerable and key workers' children. We want to protect the NHS and other essential services. This is still a sacrifice, and still a danger. But it is much smaller numbers.

Difficult situations

And our members not in class are still working from home. It's not a case of 'the schools are closed, so we're doing sod all'. In fact, teachers have been working even harder, and in the most difficult situations.

We're using IT in ways it's not been used before, to provide activity and teaching to our students, both primary and secondary. Sometimes very long days, long hours online, making sure we are there for our students. And in primaries, making videos, presenting storytelling time, and so on.

Disgraceful headlines have called teachers lazy, and vilified unions who are trying to protect staff, students and their families. It's outrageous, and smacks of the gutter press at the time of the miners' strike, 1984-85.

We're not saying we're not prepared to go back. We want to go back - but only once it's safe. That means satisfying the NEU's 'five tests', including a comprehensive testing and tracing system. These are reasonable and achievable.

But this government cares more about big business than it does about the lives of school staff, students and parents. This mad rush, to get everyone in on 1 June regardless, is a result of the government's mishmash, reckless, uncaring and two-faced strategy.

Scotland and Wales aren't reopening. Why are we in England? It's childcare for big business. This is simply Johnson appeasing the bosses. Asking us to be 'heroes' - cannon fodder for their version of war.

I've been having reps' meetings. I've been meeting endless union groups in the schools - groups that have never had reps now have four or five.

One trust of privately run 'academy' schools published a letter saying they wouldn't open till 8 June after meeting the union group. That shows they can be pressured, but it's still too early. We have to keep going.

As I say to my members, the reason we have trade unions is in part because of appalling working conditions in Victorian times, when people died in cotton mill machines and so on. Because of the trade unions, we now have at least some health and safety laws.

Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 protects our members from the unsafe conditions they would face if they went back. That law allows workers to judge that premises are unsafe, and to refuse to go in.

And we will use that law. We will make sure our members are clear on what it says, and as a union we will support our members to take that step.

The government is also ignoring the strength of feeling among parents, the families who bring the kids to the gate. I've been invited to attend parents' meetings on this crisis. At the first meeting there were 100 on the Zoom call and another 170 in the 'waiting room'.

Hundreds are now contacting the parents' group. Parents are eager to show their unhappiness and concern about the call to return.

One said we should put posters up on school gates and fences, so parents know others feel the same and feel confident in holding their kids back. There is also going to be discussion on what safe protest actions parents can carry out to publicly demonstrate their concerns.

In Newham, trade unionists and socialists have carried out several safe, socially distanced car cavalcades and standing protests against the deaths and the cuts, for example. Standing two metres apart outside is safer than it would be in any of those classrooms!

We understand the headteachers are having to draw up risk assessments for reopening. Those risk assessments may be very useful in the future, when it is safe. But at this time, none of those risk assessments can be acceptable, because the government hasn't met the NEU's five tests.

They said they were going to test for the virus right from the beginning. That's still not up! No teacher or school worker in Newham can just go somewhere to be tested on a weekly basis.

There must also be an agreement that no vulnerable person, or anyone living with a vulnerable person, can come back into the workplace. The government has blurred the higher and lesser categories for vulnerable people.

One of my primary schools passed a motion calling on Newham's Labour mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz, to say the schools won't reopen, like over a dozen other councils have. She has so far refused to do that. She wants the unions to sign a joint statement with her - I'm not doing it unless she says schools will stay shut.

Donate to the Socialist Party

Coronavirus crisis - Finance appeal

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.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

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.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • Our 'fighting coronavirus workers' charter', outlines a programme to combat the virus and protect workers' living conditions.
  • When the health crisis subsides, we must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
Inevitably, during the crisis we have not been able to sell the Socialist and raise funds in the ways we normally would.
We therefore urgently appeal to all our viewers to donate to our special coronavirus appeal.

Please donate here.

All payments are made through a secure server.

My donation


Your message: 


In The Socialist 27 May 2020:

What we think

Reckless lying cheats


Schools aren't safe

United action can defeat Tories' dangerous school plan

International news

Economic collapse leads to renewed protests across Lebanon

Chinese state's imposition of draconian law reignites Hong Kong protests

Coronavirus news

Care home workers suffer PPE shortage and job loss fears

More blunders and profiteering in Tory track-and-trace scheme

Eerily quiet before second wave - don't reopen schools!

Coronavirus pandemic news in brief

BAME Covid-19 deaths

Black and Asian Covid-19 deaths: an indictment of capitalist inequality

Workplace news

Strong union response needed against job cuts

No return to unsafe construction sites

Energy firm plans to make 2,600 redundant

Fight P&O's billionaire bosses' jobs cut plan

Hull Trades Council debates workers' political representation

Lessons from history

The 'Lucas Plan'

1920s Britain: A "country nearer Bolshevism than at any time since"


Mick Cotter 21-9-57 to 20-5-20

Fighting fund

We need readers' support to fight capitalist crisis

Readers' opinion

Going viral - Socialist comments and letters


Home   |   The Socialist 27 May 2020   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate   |   Audio  |   PDF  |   ebook

Related links:


triangleTory full return to school plans gamble with lives

triangleBoris's new big deal

triangleTories put profit before lives

triangleTowards an anti-racist school curriculum

triangleFully fund schools - stand firm on safety


triangleCardiff community fights nursery closure: Council must step in

triangleTories retreat on free school meals - the more we protest the more we can win

triangleParents' protests against Welsh schools reopening

triangleCumbria: Teachers, parents and socialists fight reckless school reopening


triangle75th anniversary of the Attlee Labour government

triangleLeeds City Council in danger of bankruptcy

triangleSunday trading: Government blinks first


triangleTories backtrack in England - Stand firm for school safety

triangleOppose the Welsh government's reckless return to school plan


triangleFight back to stop Tories scrapping protections for children in care


triangleSchools... no going back until it's safe

Reports and campaigns

Reports and campaigns


Fighting Fund

Fighting Fund: Target smashed by half time



Equity union president elections: re-elect Maureen



Change in leadership needed to secure union's future


Black Lives Matter

BLM has not stopped - protesters flock to Socialists


Ken Douglas

Red flags line road for Ken



Leeds City Council in danger of bankruptcy





The Socialist

Selling the Socialist



Cardiff community fights nursery closure: Council must step in



Come to the NSSN conference


Sunday trading

Sunday trading: Government blinks first



Equity: Solidarity with Maxine Peake


Tower Hamlets

Tower Hamlets council strike


Ministry of Justice

MoJ cleaners' covid outbreak


Ken Douglas

Memorial funds for Ken Douglas and Mick Cotter

triangleMore Reports and campaigns articles...

Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube



Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777


Locate your nearest Socialist Party branch Text your name and postcode to 07761 818 206

Regional Socialist Party organisers:

Eastern: 079 8202 1969

East Mids: 077 3797 8057

London: 07748 534 891

North East: 078 4114 4890

North West 079 5437 6096

South West: 077 5979 6478

Southern: 078 3368 1910

Wales: 079 3539 1947

West Mids: 024 7655 5620

Yorkshire: 077 0671 0041



Alphabetical listing

July 2020

June 2020

May 2020

April 2020

March 2020

February 2020

January 2020