Sharron Milsom, Sheffield Socialist Alternative
Sheffield City Council backed down from supporting the government's reopening of nurseries and primary schools on 1st June after meeting huge opposition. Sheffield schools became part of the 44% of English schools, plus schools in Scotland and Wales, not widening their opening for several year groups. But the council left it until the last minute – the Friday before the planned return to school- before changing their stance.
Campaigners, including Socialist Alternative members, chanted ‘PPE test and track, till it’s safe no going back,’ at a socially distanced protest outside Sheffield town hall the previous day - 28th May. This followed a car cavalcade with vehicles adorned with posters opposing a return to school on 1st June.
Organised by Sheffield Trades Council's Covid 19 Council of Action, with the support of the NEU, the protest demanded that the NEU's 5 tests be met before a return to school. These tests concern a reduction in the number of Covid cases; a national plan for social distancing; testing; isolation and protection of vulnerable people.
The NEU, Unison, GMB and Unite unions had written a joint open letter to the council opposing the planned early return. Also, all 5 Sheffield MPs opposed 1st June. Hence - one of the banners at the protest - and another chant, ‘Sheffield MPs support the NEU, Sheffield council why can't you?’
The government has failed to comply with it’s own Coronavirus Alert System for England. They had admitted the country was still at level 4 under the system. Yet the schools were not supposed to open until a move to level 3. Level 4 states, ‘all educational facilities closed.’
Pupils in Italy and Spain are not returning to school until September. Yet the numbers of daily new cases of infection in each country was around 200 immediately prior to 1st June whereas the UK had 1500-2000. Daily deaths reported in the UK in the previous week were averaging over 250 whilst in Spain deaths reported were in single figures and on 1st June itself NIL.
Also, England’s contact tracing system had been launched only 4 days earlier and was not up and running. The system needs not only to be operating fully but also succeeding in reducing the number of cases and bringing the virus under control.
The government's move to get children back to school is not about ‘the science.’ Nor is it about education; schools which have widened their opening are operating a limited curriculum as large numbers of parents are keeping their children off school. It is about enabling parents to get back to their jobs and thereby business making profits.
Sheffield City Council, along with many other local authorities, are now considering 15th June as a date for returning more children to school. Campaigners are asking the council what criteria they will be using to assess whether they should be taking that step.
There should be no return to school unless it is safe. The government say it is unsafe for a child – or an adult- to visit a friend inside their home. How then can it be safe for 15 children, a teacher and a teaching assistant to be in a classroom together?