The handling of the current Covid crisis has been shambolic. A ‘muddling through’ approach by the Tory government has been mirrored by Stormont, with late lockdown, inadequate PPE for key workers and initially a call for herd immunity as a path through the pandemic. Recently the re- opening of schools was placed centre stage in a public battleground in England. When Boris Johnson demanded schools in England re-open on 1 June, the teacher union NEU was quick to resist, demanding that five tests be met in advance of any return to classrooms:
1. Much Lower Numbers of Covid 19
2. A National plan for social distancing
4. A whole school strategy
5. Protection of the vulnerable
Public outrage, cautious local councils, and parental power ensured that many schools remained closed, and some, once open, were forced to shut again with the re-emergence of the deadly virus.
Education Minister Peter Weir’s announcement that schools in Northern Ireland are to reopen on 17 August came with little guidance and has left education workers in no doubt that their health and safety comes second to saving the economy. With social distancing shaved from 2 metres to 1, the so-called pupil ‘bubbles’ will be full year groups of up to 240. Scrupulous, rigorous risk assessments by qualified professionals will not be under-taken.
Instead, individual principals unqualified for this task will shoulder this responsibility. PPE will not be issued to teachers or pupils. Classes of one teacher to thirty plus pupils will resume in classrooms, probably measured out for social distancing by maths teachers, and possibly with a wooden ruler. Dissenting voices have been ignored, quelled and silenced. In short schools are set to become sacrificial lambs taking children so the working class can produce profit as before.