Wigan Observer Column - Choose to be Different or to Make a Difference

The United Kingdom is taking steps to a return to normality.  Many more people are returning to work and plans are in place for schools to get back to teaching children in class.

Teachers, headmasters and headmistresses are already doing wonderful work with children in school.  Key workers children and those from a vulnerable family background are already at school and have an environment that is safe for them.  I think that we all agree that children learn best in school and we need to focus on maintaining a safe environment whilst also thinking about their futures.

Many parents are doing a wonderful job in educating their children whilst we are in lockdown but not all are able to do so.  Many children, especially from a vulnerable background, are receiving virtually no education at all.  Unfortunately, their parents are not able to teach their children and do not provide the direction and support to take advantage of what education is available.

We must have safe schooling and also ensure that the most vulnerable do not see a loss of six months or maybe more of their education.  This is my priority and it is the same for many in the Labour Party.

We can perhaps only guarantee 100 per cent safety when there is an effective vaccine which may be eighteen months away.  It could be that, just like for the Common Cold or AIDS, decades of research does not produce a cure or vaccine.

Former Labour education Secretaries of State had said that children should be going back to school and have decried the behaviour of certain trades unions.  David Blunkett has gone so far as to say that teaching unions are working against the interests of children.  Alan Johnson has said that continuing children’s education has to be as important as feeding the public during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The National Education Union is militantly against children resuming their education on the 1st June but it is the responsibility of headteachers to make the decision and for national and local government to support them in their judgment.  So many in our school communities are focussed on the interests of children and they deserve to be supported.

The NEU has gone so far as to say that teachers should not mark children’s homework and not even provide online teaching if they feel “uncomfortable”.  It does not sound like parts of the union movement have the interests of children at heart which is why they have so little support from the more moderate parts of Labour.

In fact, leader of the Labour Party, Keir Starmer MP, their deputy leader and shadow Education Secretary have not yet endorsed the NEU’s stance.  They have all, quite rightfully, highlighted that schools must be safe but have not said that schools should not be welcoming more children back on the 1st June.  Even Tony Blair is of the same view as Jeremy Corbyn’s successor and is not against a return to school.

Remarkably, this puts Keir Starmer in the same position as Neil Kinnock who refused to back the NUM during the miner’s strike in the 1980’s.  The Labour leadership is actually closer to the Conservative position then it appears.

Whilst my focus is in ensuring that children have a good education in a safe environment, we can look to our European friends to see that they are leading the way.  Swedish primary schools have remained open throughout the crisis and more countries are opening up.

Denmark’s schools returned over a month ago and, since then, they have seen Covid-19 continue in a downward direction.  Some people have said it would cause another spike in the pandemic but Denmark is now reporting days when they do not have a single death due to this coronavirus.

Some people just want to be different and contrarian but the vast majority want to make a positive difference which is exactly what so many teachers will be doing from the 1st June.