Education Minister attempts to shift Coronavirus burden onto parents

Minister for Education, Gavin Williamson, has said that it is parents’ responsibility to prevent a new Covid wave when schools open this September, attempting to shift the burden and blame for the virus’ spread away from government to individual citizens.

Writing in the Daily Mail, Williamson said: “we can’t leave it all up to schools… parents must help out in the battle against Covid fourth wave.”

Now, it is entirely true that parents do have a role to play in reducing the spread of Covid in schools – ensuring their children test regularly and keeping them home if they exhibit symptoms – however, this is far from the deciding factor in a potential new wave. What is for more impactful is the fact that the Conservative government are allowing schools to open at a time when not only are UK Covid cases on the rise, but the majority of school-age children are yet to have their first Covid vaccination. As it currently stands, only 16 and 17 year-olds are being offered their first dose unconditionally, while 12-15 year olds only have the opportunity if they are in an ‘at risk’ category (i.e. they have weak immune systems, severe neurodisabilities, Down’s syndrome).

In allowing millions of unvaccinated children across the country to go out to school, the government are making it nigh inevitable that there will be a spike in infections. So Williamson can go an about how “Parents too have a responsibility to make sure that their children are tested regularly,” but this would only serve to limit the damage done by the Conservative party’s continued unwillingness to take Coronavirus seriously.

Also, it is no wonder that “we can’t leave it all up to schools,” when 83% of headteachers say they lack the money to fund and maintain school facilities, according to a survey by the National Association of Head Teachers. With broken air-conditioning and faulty windows, how does the government expect schools to properly ventilate their classrooms?

One of many teachers who wrote to the Observer on this issue was a primary school teacher from Merseyside: “The roof leaks, so of a morning, if it’s been raining, you have to move the tables so that the children don’t sit on wet chairs. Children sit in their coats during the winter. Our heating system is antiquated. And they have said that, if it breaks down, there aren’t any parts to fix it. There are small, A4-size windows that don’t provide enough ventilation.”

Like all our public services, from transport to youth work, social work to healthcare, education has been left to fall apart by a government that does not care about the working class. There are the occasional concessions, such as the Conservatives’ ten-year plan to renovate five hundred schools, but that does nothing for pupils now, or for the next ten years, and certainly does not provide the resources necessary to prevent a Covid spike as schools begin to open. Add this to longstanding issues such as large class sizes – often around thirty in one class – and it is clear that the responsibility for fighting Coronavirus does not lie with parents, nor does it lie with schools, but entirely with a Conservative party desperate to have anyone take the blame but them.

Philip English, is a member of the YCL’s Manchester Branch

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