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From The Socialist newspaper, 16 December 2020

Effective testing and properly funded safety plan needed in schools

Unions must act now

School workers are having to carry out extra duties without support, photo Peyman Hamidipoor/snn.ir/CC

School workers are having to carry out extra duties without support, photo Peyman Hamidipoor/snn.ir/CC   (Click to enlarge)

Martin Powell-Davies, National Education Union member

The contradictory chaos at the heart of the government's Covid policies has been brought into sharp focus by the sudden announcement that mass testing of secondary school students is going to be rushed out in parts of Essex, Kent and north east London.

There's no question that regular mass testing of school students and staff is needed. It's a demand that the National Education Union (NEU) raised as one of our 'five tests' for Covid-safety in schools back in May.

A few weeks ago, infection rates in the north of England were much higher than in the south. However, official statistics show that it's now London where rates are rising fastest, particularly among school-age children.

Like some Tory 'King Canute', health secretary Matt Hancock hopes rushing out mobile testing units can stop the rising tide washing over London and the south east. But, once again, instead of a properly resourced plan, he's resorting to half-baked measures.

The practicalities of making sure that schoolchildren in the targeted areas are all tested are far from straightforward. No doubt exhausted and overstretched school staff will again be expected to try and help bring some order to Tory chaos.

Testing this late in term also means that children testing positive will then have to self-isolate with their families over the Christmas period that the government has supposedly 'saved' from Covid restrictions.

Worse, government ministers still can't bring themselves to admit to what is now surely blindingly obvious. If school-aged children are so widely infected, insisting that parents send them into classes of 30 - in badly ventilated classrooms - inevitably means that schools will be acting as a significant driver of wider community transmission.

Yet, while these mass tests are being announced, badly hit London boroughs are being ordered to withdraw their plans to manage the situation by finishing term with just remote learning (see below).

As parents and staff in the hard-hit north have understandably pointed out with anger, government failure to organise widespread mass testing in other regions has already left thousands of families vulnerable. Some of their children will have been returning home from school untested, probably without symptoms, but still infectious.

But government failure mustn't be allowed to stoke regional divisions. Regular effective mass testing of children should be happening in every area.

The risk of transmission should also be kept down through a properly resourced plan for safer reduced class sizes, with some children being supported to learn from home on a rota basis where necessary - certainly in those areas with the highest infection rates. Parents and carers, who are left without childcare, should be paid in full if they have to remain at home as a result.

Of course, these demands aren't new. Trade unions and parent campaigns have been calling for action to reduce infection risks in schools for months.

Instead of just pleading with ministers who refuse to listen, what's needed is action to make sure they are forced to change policy. The NEU should follow the lead taken by the Scottish teaching union EIS in Glasgow, and prepare members for ballots for strike action where employers continue to refuse to act to protect health and safety.


Tories force Greenwich schools to open - but unions must stand firm

So the Tories have chosen to use the dictatorial powers enshrined in the Coronavirus Act to order Greenwich Council to keep schools open - presumably other London councils following similar routes will receive the same.

Greenwich Council has now backed down. But the council should have stuck to its guns. It was acting in the interests of public health - unlike the Tories.

Let's see the Tories justify in court why it's "necessary and proportionate" to force schools to stay open, just when London is going back into tier 3, and when Hancock has blamed the rising infection rate on school-age children!

The council hasn't stood firm, but the unions must. If there is a serious and imminent danger from rising infection rates, then the unions should advise staff of their rights under Section 44 to refuse to work in unsafe workplaces.

If the Tories up the ante, then they have to be faced down.

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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.
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In The Socialist 16 December 2020:


News

Unemployment and Covid rising - the crisis is not over - Fight for jobs and safety

Mass testing - we need trade union oversight and full pay for all

Fight for NHS pay and funding

Rich countries hoarding vaccine is danger to us all

No to Tories' new anti-protest law

Maternity unit deaths - democratic, public ownership needed

Met police investigate British mercenary war crimes against Tamils

No surprise, poverty is rising


Education

Cancel exams for class of Covid

Welsh schools close for safety after union pressure

Effective testing and properly funded safety plan needed in schools

East London shows the way: strikes are how to fight for state education

Determined strikers at Leaways school


Workplace News

Openreach and EE: Massive vote for action

PCS union conference stripped of powers by NEC

Unite launch ballot over sacked London bus rep

Christmas redundancy shock at L&Q housing association

Stop 'fire and rehire' at British Gas


New Technology

Can green technology and AI save capitalism?


Engels

'Socialism - Utopian and Scientific' by Engels


Reports & campaigns

Protests in solidarity with Indian farmers

Book: The national question - a Marxist approach

School boy assaulted by police in Tottenham

TUSC relaunch in the north west

Protest against immigration enforcement centre in Newham

Tremendous fighting fund reflects confidence


Quiz

Quiz 2020


 

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