Teachers Don’t Want to Close Schools – But the Government Has Left Them No Choice

Since the beginning of the Covid crisis teachers have been demanding measures to make schools safe. By failing to act, the government has left school workers with no alternative but to campaign for closures.

It should never have been like this. Hardworking teachers, leaders and support staff don’t just stop, refuse to return to the classroom and exercise their legal right to work from home. And yet that is exactly what we have been forced to do in the face of intolerable incompetence from a government who have mishandled this crisis at every stage.

I say forced because I know exactly where I would like to be on Monday morning and that is in my classroom, teaching my class. Yet I, and hundreds of thousands of other educators, do not believe that this is a safe option because of the failure by Boris Johnson and his government to control the spread of coronavirus.

We have repeatedly asked the government to work with us to make schools and colleges safe. Since last June, we have been asking them to invest in additional staff and space to make social distancing possible. They ignored us.

In September, we called on them to implement a proper recovery plan, including the use of blended learning to ensure our children miss as little as possible of their education. They ignored us.

In October, we called for a circuit break over half term, to reduce rapidly-rising infection rates and prevent chaos in the autumn term as schools, classes and bubbles were repeatedly opened and closed as they were hit by the virus. They ignored us.

In November, we called for schools and colleges to be included in the national lockdown, as all the scientific evidence showed that, without such measures, it would be ineffective. They ignored us.

We also called for them to adopt the proposals set out in the Independent SAGE Urgent Plan for Safer Schools. These measures would have dramatically improved safety in all our schools and colleges and potentially prevented the rise in the run up to Christmas. Once again, they ignored us.

However, the crucial moment, unbeknownst to us and the general public, came on 22 December when they were advised by their own Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies that reopening schools and colleges in January would lead to the R rate remaining above 1 and a growth in infection, hospitalisation and death.

This advice was only published on 31 December and it is the key trigger for the position we have had to take. It is bad enough to ignore the largest organisation of education professionals in this country but to ignore their own scientific advisors on a matter of public health, where lives hang in the balance, is completely unforgivable.

The government may ignore SAGE and may put lives at risk but we will not. Because we care about the children we teach, because we care about their families and their communities, we will act.

We will act not because we want to, but because we have to, in order to make schools safe and to protect communities. We will be working, but working from home as it is unsafe to enter schools and colleges with full classes.

We call for your solidarity as we exercise our individual legal right not to enter an unsafe workplace and take a stand for the safety of the communities we live and work in. Please raise your voices with us and sign our petition.

It should never have been like this. We must act to make sure it never is again.