British Conservative defeat on prematurely reopening schools

This 6 June 2020 Stop the War Coalition video from Britain says about itself:

Coronavirus, War & Empire: Arundhati Roy & Jeremy Corbyn in Conversation w/ Tariq Ali

Three heavyweight campaigners for social justice come together to discuss coronavirus, #BlackLivesMatter, China, India, Kashmir, Palestine and much more besides.

By Ceren Sagir in Britain, 9 June 2020:

Government u-turns over plans to reopen primary schools before summer

PLANS for all primary school children to return before summer were abandoned by the government today in a victory for teachers warning against the risk to public safety.

The government had aimed to bring all pupils in England back four weeks before the end of term, despite some schools warning that they were already short of space due to the socially distanced reopening for Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils, and could not accommodate more children.

Teachers and teaching unions have been at loggerheads with the government over the full reopening of schools, warning that many were in no position to implement social distancing and the policy could spark a “second spike” in Covid-19 cases.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Editorial: The Tory retreat on schools is a victory for public safety

THE government’s retreat from its reckless determination to fully reopen English primary schools before the summer holidays is a victory for public safety.

And it is a victory secured by organised workers. Educators’ trade unions have led the opposition to full reopening, pointing out that ministers have been unable to explain how schools would be able to maintain social distancing guidelines if catering for a full complement of pupils.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson’s announcement reflected a reality that had already taken shape. Nearly half all primary schools in the country did not open to any more pupils last week despite the government’s attempt to get reception, Year 1 and Year 6 back in the classrooms.

School leaders’ confidence in prioritising safety over government instructions rested on the strength of educators’ organising within institutions — reflected in a wave of recruitment and the election of thousands of new workplace reps.

And it grew too from a strategy that applied pressure at school and local government level, which resulted in ever greater numbers of local authorities confirming that they would not co-operate with Westminster’s plans.

In the process, teachers received all the vilification and abuse that workers organising in their unions always encounter when they effectively challenge the prerogatives of capital.

The National Education Union (NEU) in particular was subjected to a string of smears in the Daily Mail, while a rogues’ gallery of Labour and ex-Labour rightwingers such as David Blunkett, Alan Johnson and Ian Austin piled in to join the attack — some urging Labour leader Keir Starmer to denounce the teachers’ unions as a sign that the right was back in charge.

Starmer didn’t do that, but though Labour has welcomed the government’s retreat it played no part in it. At no point did it offer the full support for teachers they ought to have had a right to expect.

Today was a workers’ victory secured over Westminster, not through it.

But it remains a very partial victory, because, as teachers have consistently pointed out, the impact of prolonged school closures on children’s education and wellbeing is severe.

This is especially so because the government has paid scant attention to adapting the delivery of education to pandemic conditions, instead prioritising a mass reopening of schools designed not to get kids’ education back on track but to remove an obstacle to their parents’ ability to return to the workplace.

NEU joint general secretary Dr Mary Bousted’s call for a national plan for education should form the impetus for the next stage of campaigning — and she identifies key parts of such a plan: blending home and school learning practices, increasing support for disadvantaged children including by extending free internet access and “requisitioning local public spaces such as community centres and libraries so that pressure on school space is lessened and more children are able to return to school in safe environments.”

In Parliament, both government and opposition have been hamstrung by their commitment to returning to “normal” after the lockdown.

While they argue about the speed and scale of relaxing lockdown, neither party leadership seems interested in reshaping the economy to address the needs the pandemic creates — whether that entails repurposing public spaces, reforming the agricultural sector to ensure proper wages and conditions for the home-grown “land army” needed to plug the gap left by super-exploited labour from overseas or taking control of industries to prevent the catastrophic job losses being threatened by the likes of British Airways and Rolls-Royce.

Though the case for action on all these fronts is compelling, ministers run scared of the public realising the potential of such interventions to transform existing practices and shift the balance of power away from corporations and in favour of workers.

But as educators’ unions have now shown, we can successfully press for change despite that.

UK: Setback for Johnson’s school reopening plan due to popular opposition. By Tania Kent, 10 June 2020. The temporary retreat is a credit to the millions of parents and educators who opposed the government.

From daily News Line in Britain today:

Tories are driven back over schools opening

THE PLAN for all primary school years in England to go back to school before the end of term has been dropped by the government.

Instead, schools will be given ‘flexibility’ over whether or not to admit more pupils.

The decision comes after Tory Health Secretary Matt Hancock conceded at Monday’s Downing Street briefing that secondary schools in England may not fully reopen until September ‘at the earliest’.

NASUWT General Secretary Dr Patrick Roach said: ‘Whilst the NASUWT welcomes the government’s belated decision to step back from its plans to open schools to even more pupils before the end of this academic year, we are also urging the government to act swiftly to address the concerns of teachers and headteachers struggling to maintain safe working practices in schools where provision for children has already been extended.

‘The government must now accept that its plans for wider reopening of schools are no longer credible.

‘The government must also make clear to schools that they should revisit their plans and take all appropriate steps to protect the welfare of staff and pupils even if that means pausing planned reopening or closing wider provision in the interests of safety and public health.’

Also commenting on the government’s decision not to press ahead, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union said: ‘It has taken the government some time to recognise what was obvious to most.

‘The government’s social distancing rules made it impossible for primary schools to admit all pupils before the summer holidays. Primary schools and secondary schools will not re-open to all pupils until September at the earliest. But even that date cannot, as Matt Hancock has recognised, be taken for granted.’

‘The government must also plan for a second spike.’

7 thoughts on “British Conservative defeat on prematurely reopening schools

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