Opening up schools again – It’s NOT easy

To those outside of the often complex world of education reopening schools even on a phased basis during our health pandemic may look to be a straight forward matter, indeed government often gives such an impression. The reality of course is very different.

I’m a Trust member of a High School Academy and have been for around a year now. The school, which I also happened to attend many years ago, is not the issue here as this affects all schools across the UK. However, what I’ve learned especially since lockdown hit us is that keeping a large school of @1000 students going is a huge task. Yes the school has remained open for vulnerable students and those who are the children of Key Workers but coursework is being set and sent home to many many more students.

Schools have onerous responsibilities not just to educate our children but to safeguard them, to help manage the consequences of children living in dysfunctional family groups, to ensure they eat regularly, to help deal with all kinds of issues which affect the ability to both learn and to grow up as well rounded citizens. That’s one hell of an agenda and it’s a very different and hugely more complex one than what I encountered as a teenager in the 1970’s.

Just take the H&S Risk Assessment process which a school has to go through to enable it to teach a wider number of students within a school during this health pandemic. I can guarantee that it will be a long and complex document for any school to put together. If you think about it the RA effectively covers the students from the point they leave home to the point they return, so if they use school buses which pre-covid 19 were full to bursting but can only now accommodate say @ a dozen of them how does that work? There’s face covering to think about on those buses too. Then how many students can a school safely take in whilst maintaining safe distancing etc. etc. And what about the school’s staff members who may themselves be vulnerable due to health issues. Of course some of the students will be vulnerable too for the same reasons.

Over the past 3 months I’ve sat in on the school governors meetings (held via Zoom) as they grapple with all the above difficulties and more and I have to say the attention to detail is admirable indeed. I’m told that my job as a Trust member is to have oversight of the management of the school by the governors to ensure the objectives of the Trust are being realised/kept to. If what I have been seeing and participating in is replicated across other schools (and I’ve no reason to think that it isn’t) then seriously detailed work is happening to plan for safe workplaces and learning places for what could well be many months to come.

Teachers want to teach, they want their students to learn and be successful so if you hear of comments being made about teachers not being keen to reopen schools please take them with a pinch of salt. Teaching unions are not being obstructive they are simply trying to ensure that schools are safe for all who work or study within them. And no I’m not just saying that as a retired trade union officer, I’m saying it because of the evidence of my own eyes.

With the ‘R’ number looking very much as though it could be creeping above ‘1’ in the north west of England as I write this posting there is naturally great caution out there about reopening of schools. That caution is both well placed and seriously considered. We must ensure that reopening schools, even with significantly less students being in them each day from what used to be normal, are as safe as they can reasonably be.

Beware easy political solutions and ‘just get on with it’ rhetoric from those in power, turning a governmental wish to re-open schools this month into lager numbers of children actually being in schools is far from easy.

And just as I had completed this posting it seems that the Penny had dropped with government, at least as far as with primary schools are concerned, as this BBC article explains:-

www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-52969679

Covid-safe workplaces?

As a retired trade union officer an issue has been bouncing around in my head for a while now associated with the C19 return to work i.e. how do we ensure workplaces are as safe as they can be made?

In a unionised workplace the answer is pretty obvious as the appropriately trained TU H&S reps will ensure the workplace is safe. Indeed, I often recall that in my working days the TU H&S reps were often trained to a higher level than managers who actually held the legal H&S responsibilities.

But what happens in non-unionised workplaces? At one end of this will be the ‘sod the workers we want them back in grafting and beggar the consequences’ type employers who may well be putting pressure on employees to return to an unsafe workplace. At the other end there will be good employers who simply don’t know everything they should do (risk assessments etc.) and may then create a unsafe workplace inadvertently. Of course there’ll be every variation between these two extremes.

I decided to have a look at what the Health & Safety Executive were saying and here it is:-

www.hse.gov.uk/news/hse-regulatory-activity-during-coronavirus.htm

And here’s a link to the TUC and Coronavirus:-

www.tuc.org.uk/CoronavirusProtectingWorkers

If ever workers needed to be members of a trade union now is the time as many of the worries about returning to work will be dealt with without individuals having to do that worrying. I remain concerned that non-unionised workers will find themselves at a health disadvantage and during this pandemic that’s not where anyone wants to be.

Johnson exposed by the Sunday Times?

I’ve read the Sunday Times article of yesterday and at face value our PM, our political leaders and Public Health England are being said to have been ‘asleep at the wheel’ with more than a little evidence to back that up. Yes it’s just one side of a story but tellingly that story was blasted out by a usually Conservative supporting newspaper.

Frankly, to me, the lengthy article reads like it was well researched although unsurprisingly not all sources are disclosed particularly the inside No.10 political ones.

I’m sure Conservative leaders will seek to say that the article is a hatchet job on Johnson and I note that one Minister referred to it as ‘grotesque’, one definition of which is ‘strange and often frightening in appearance or character’ according to the Cambridge Dictionary.

And it’s easy for me as a Lib Dem opponent of the Conservative Party to say that the article proves that our Tory Government is not in control of this pandemic or at least they weren’t when it really mattered at the start. Yet well before I read the sobering Sunday Times article I had been struggling to accept that Government was in control. Again though is that just my innate response to politicians whom I have fundamental disagreements with? I’ve droned on enough in the recent past about prejudiced thinking so am I been a victim of my own party political prejudices?

It’s also interesting though that Government has not responded to the article in any serious way. Some short sound bite dismissals but not much if any evidence that Government political attack dogs have been let loose to destroy the fundamental thrust of it. That tells me that the fundamentals are probably correct and Government just wants to move on so the accusations move to the back burner of our troubled lives at present.

Is it also the case that we as a general UK population are so distracted by what is happening to us presently that we are almost pushing such accusations onto the back burner ourselves as we feel we need to have confidence in our leaders so we have hope that all will eventually be well?

Readers of this blog site will know that I have long held the view that we should trust no one with power and that their every move should be scrutinised. I fear there is much to scrutinise and that saying things like ‘this is not the not the time to look at what has gone wrong’ is no more than burying our heads in the sand. No, we need hard nosed investigative journalism more now than at any time in living memory to expose propaganda, misinformation, and the missteps of our leaders.

BBC TV Programme from 2018 – Clues to our present health crisis

The BBC has the programme on I Player – see link below:-

www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p059y0p1/contagion-the-bbc-four-pandemic

The programme ‘Contagion: The BB4 Pandemic’ is from March 2018 and in my humble opinion is worth watching to help us understand how a pandemic develops.

And here’s a 60 second explanation of Coronavirus from the BBC website:-

www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/health-51883255/coronavirus-explained-in-60-seconds

I hope we can all keep as well as possible in the present circumstances

My thanks to Bob Robinson for the lead to this posting