Schools Update: keep organising to stop an unsafe wider reopening of schools on June 1

Download the updated Unison Schools Open Letter for school groups

Last Friday, we had a fantastic meeting with 282 schools members joining a Zoom call addressed by Dr Jackie Applebee, NEU branch secretary Alex Kenny, and our branch secretary, John McLoughlin. We also had a fantastic message of support from Apsana Begum MP (see below). At the same time, the National Education Union had a meeting with 375 members!

In both meetings, members expressed the same concerns and anxieties about an unsafe wider opening of schools. We are all determined to keep our pupils, their families, ourselves and the wider community safe. There should be no wider reopening until it is proven to be safe to do so.

Five things to build the momentum in our campaign:

  1. Stay united, determined and insist that your school won’t open until it is safe. If your head teacher or management call meetings to discuss June 1, tell them you are waiting for union advice, and won’t discuss wider reopening until it’s safe to do so. United we are strong, divided we will fall.
  2. Send your head teacher a copy of this Model Letter.Click here to download
  3. Complete the national Unison Schools survey that finishes today at 5pm. The union wants to hear your views on wider school reopening. We want as many members as possible to complete the survey. Click here to view the survey.
  4. Attend one of our primary cluster meetings that we are holding jointly with the NEU. This week, we will be holding a series of neighbourhood meetings for primary school members. These will be a vital opportunity to discuss organising to stop a June 1 wider reopening in your school.
  5. Let us know if your school is planning to reopen so we can call a specific meeting your your school. Our local head teachers have written to the government opposing a wider reopening on June 1, some heads are pressing ahead with plans.

Statement passed at Tower Hamlets Unison Schools Meeting on 15 April

All education workers are understandably angered and shocked by the government’s plans for a reckless wider reopening of schools on June 1.
We support the TUC education unions  principles and tests before a wider reopening. These are:

  1. Safety and welfare of pupils and staff as the paramount principle
  2. No increase in pupil numbers until full rollout of a national test and trace scheme
  3. A national Covid-19 education taskforce with government, unions and education stakeholders to agree statutory guidance for safe reopening of schools
  4. Consideration of the specific needs of vulnerable students and families facing economic disadvantage
  5. Additional resources for enhanced school cleaning, PPE and risk assessments
  6. Local autonomy to close schools where testing indicates clusters of new covid-19 cases

All education workers want to return to schools in order to support the children and young people that we work with. But this can only be done once it is safe.
We recognise the impact of the lockdown on vulnerable young people. This has been made worse by a decade of cuts to public services and underfunding of schools.

The government has failed to provide scientific evidence to support their plans for wider reopening. The DfE’s own scientific adviser has said that there is “low evidence” for some of the governments key scientific arguments.
We call on the government, head teachers and the local authority to step back from plans for a wider reopening on June 1 and to rule out a wider reopening until the government has met the tests and principles set out by the TUC education unions.
We remind education workers of their rights under Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 “to refuse to return to their place of work… in circumstances of danger”.
We support any worker or group of workers who are forced to exercise this right  because they face working in, or being directed to work in such “circumstances of danger”

Statement of support from Apsana Begum MP (Poplar and Limehouse)

Now, more than ever, we owe tribute to those delivering public and essential services. However, it is clear that our public services have been ill-prepared for dealing with this type of large-scale health risk because of spending cuts and privatisation.

Public sector workers need more than tributes and kind words.

What does being called a hero really mean if at the same time urgent action is still yet to be taken to ensure one’s safety? What do Government PR gestures actually mean to those – literally – dying on the frontline?

This is why so many of us are simply appalled by the Government’s statement on lifting coronavirus restrictions and that workers’ lives are being put at risk by the call for them to be pressured to return to work.

This includes supporting the National Education Union’s call for the Government the rethink its risky and dangerous approach.

As of 20th April 2020, at least 65 education staff have died with coronavirus.

This week we were further stunned by the Department for Education’s own chief scientific adviser revealing he had not made an assessment of the plans to reopen English schools.

The NEU’s arguments that unless and until the scientific advice and evidence behind the Government’s decisions are published, it will be very difficult to build confidence amongst parents, the public and the education profession about a safe wider opening of schools, seem sensible and logical.

Moreover, it is so obviously clear schools must not be re-opened until it is safe to do so. What is more important than our children’s and education worker’s lives and wellbeing?

There has never been a more important time to either join or become more active in a trade union.

We need safe working conditions in Tower Hamlets. We need it to be safe for people to travel to work. We need it to be safe for children to attend school.

I have long supported and worked with Unison members on local campaigns to protect our public services: to save our nurseries and community language services and to end academisation. And now more than ever I believe we must stand with union members in their demands: for safe workplaces and conditions, and for job security.

For this reason I stand in solidarity with union members now in opposing this Government’s risky and reckless disregard for people’s lives, wellbeing and safety.

Where trade unions are forced to step in to take action to protect their members’ health, they will have my full and unwavering support.

Please know that your struggle is my struggle.

And I, and many other Labour colleagues are standing with you – shoulder to shoulder.