Bristol’s Elected Mayor Supports Schools That Refuse to Open

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Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 31/05/2020 - 2:31am in

Boris Johnson is desperate to get the children back to school as quickly as possible if he can, and has decided that schools will reopen next week for children of specific ages. Parents and teachers are naturally worried about this, especially as the public schools won’t reopen until September. It seems to be once again one law for the plebs and another for the entitled rich. And once again, Boris is utterly complacent about the health and welfare of ordinary people in his desire to get the economy moving once again. So long as the elite don’t get it, he’s not worried.

Mike has published a series of pieces about this, including the very strict regulations governing the movement of young children when they return to the classroom. Mike has commented that this seems less like schooling and more like a prison. The Tories have tried to justify this by pointing to Denmark, which has already allowed its children to return to school. This is not the first time the Tories have embarked on a disastrous policy and tried to justify it as just following the Danes. And that makes me wonder what else they aren’t telling us about our friends across the North Sea. Way back in the 1990s the Tories laid off a vast number of civil servants. This, they declared, would cut bureaucracy and reinvigorate the economy. The Danes had done it, and so boosted theirs. But they didn’t follow the Danish policy absolutely. It had worked in Denmark, I was told by a Danish friend, because their government had given its departing state bureaucrats very handsome final payments of about £40,000 or more, and encouraged them to set up their own businesses. The Tories didn’t do any of this. They just laid people off. This also had a knock on effect on the economy. I’ve heard that for every civil service job, there’s 1 1/2 jobs supported by it in the wider economy, as those employed by the state purchase goods and services. Which meant that when our civil servants were kicked out, they took an awful lot of other people in private industry with them. Now that the Tories are telling us that the Danes are sending their children back to school, I do wonder what it is that the Danes are doing right, which our benighted government isn’t and won’t tell us about.

Mike has also put up a piece on his blog examining the question of parental responsibility if a child contracts the Coronavirus or the Kawasaki disease from school. It seems very clear – in British law parents are held accountable if they send their child to a hazardous environment and as a result they become ill or injured. This is regardless whether they have been urged or told to do so by the government. Parents therefore have a very strong case for refusing to allow their children to go to school if they are afraid for their safety.

Civil disobedience: would parents be irresponsible to send their children back to school now?

These concerns are also shared by Bristol’s elected mayor, Marvin Rees, and his cabinent. Like many Bristolians I received an email last Wednesday from Rees discussing what he and his team were doing about the coronavirus. Rees particularly mentioned schools and stated that he supported those schools that would remain closed. Rees said

Our city’s teachers and school staff have been working even harder than ever to keep schools open for children who are vulnerable and whose parents are key workers. Rather than accepting the 1 June date from the Government, Councillor Anna Keen, a local schoolteacher and our cabinet member for education, and our education team have met regularly with head teachers. The government made the schools opening a binary debate by not discussing their announcement with unions but I am afraid this has been consistent with their continuing failure to engage with cities on decisions, throughout the crisis. 

We have also met with school leaders representing teaching and children across Bristol throughout the pandemic, listening carefully to their views and concerns. It was very clear that they did not want a blanket approach across Bristol – and the teaching unions in Bristol support this too.

Like other councils, our position is clear:  schools should stay closed until they can begin to reopen safely. We are 100% backing teachers to work with parents and communities to make decisions on how their schools return, as Anna’s blog set out on Wednesday.

We also backed the unions’ calls for scientific advice on child transmission to be published. From the start of last week, all parents and carers have begun receiving a letter from the council, via schools, to remind them that they do not have to send their children in and that they should not expect their school to open on a particular date, in a particular way.

The Tories and their pet press and media have done their best to portray those teachers and unions objecting to schools reopening as selfish and unconcerned with the welfare of their pupils. This is the opposite of the truth. I realise that there are bad, sometimes terribly bad teachers, but most teachers are very concerned about the performance and wellbeing of their charges. But the Tories have always hated teachers and demonised them as part of their campaign to break the unions, privatise education and indoctrinate them with approved Tory values. This latest attack on teachers worried for the health of their students is just more of this same rubbish.

I’m not a great fan of Rees. He’s made some decisions for Bristol that have been very foolish, and has alienated many people in south Bristol with his refusal to accept residents’ plans for housing development in Hengrove Park in favour of his own scheme, which was rejected by the regulator. But this time Rees is right.

He and Bristol’s school heads and teacher are worried about schoolchildren’s health and protection against the Coronavirus. Boris isn’t, and shouldn’t be believed whatever comes out of his mouth.