Whilst Boris Johnson wants most schools in Britain to re-open next month his own alma mater, Eton College, will remain closed until September. The country’s paramount public school, along with most of the other top fee-paying secondary schools, will only re-open when the college authorities think it’s safe to do so in the autumn. Schools that cater for the children of the ruling class are not prepared to put the health of their pupils and staff at risk during the coronavirus crisis. But it’s another matter for the plebs as far as the Johnson government is concerned. Workers’ kids are expected to go back to school in June despite the continuing risk of infection to pupils and teachers.
Five former Tory and Labour education ministers along with the odious Tony Blair are supporting the Government’s plans for re-opening schools in phases. Gavin Williamson, the current Education Secretary, says the plan is based on scientific advice – but this confidence is not shared by the teaching unions nor the medical profession.
Teaching unions have rejected the plans, saying teachers and children would be at risk of catching the disease and accelerating its spread back out into the community.
The British Medical Association (BMA) says that the number of coronavirus cases is still too high to open schools safely, whilst the teaching unions say schools should only be reopened when they can safely do so.
The 300,000 strong NASUWT teachers’ union warned the government that it will have to do more to win the trust of teachers, after a poll of almost 30,000 members found that just five per cent believed it was safe for more children to return to schools in England from 1st June. The National Education Union (NEU), the largest teaching union in the UK, says wider opening should only happen when national tests are met and there is full compliance with the union’s health checklist.
No wonder there’s widespread opposition on the street to the Johnson plan, despite the best efforts of the bourgeois media to drum up support for a general return to work in the education sector.
Liverpool and Hartlepool councils have flatly refused to implement the return to school plan, and at least another eight mostly Labour-run councils have joined them, whilst others have expressed similar concerns over safety and timing.
Some 1,500 English primary schools are now expected to remain closed in 12 days’ time and the Government concedes that the re-opening date will now not be ‘uniform’ across England.
The Prime Minister announced the phased re-opening of schools in a statement on 10th May that Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters in Parliament said was “a thinly veiled declaration of class war from a government that has chosen to put the economic demands of some sections of big business above the welfare of the country”. The Socialist Campaign Group MPs said: “Protecting the people is the first duty of any government and the government is failing to do so. Wherever trade unions are forced to step in to take action against bosses who put their members’ health at risk they will have our full and unwavering support.”
Schools should only open with the agreement of the teaching unions. Schools should only open when it's safe.