Militant teachers hatching last-minute strike plot to disrupt re-opening of schools

MILITANT teachers are hatching a last-minute strike plot to disrupt the full re-opening of schools, we can reveal.

Hard-line union activist Martin Powell-Davies is backing industrial action ballots on the eve of all kids returning to class.

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In a rallying call, he says school chiefs will be “failing in their responsibilities” on health and safety grounds by opening their doors if Covid cases don’t drop dramatically.

The executive body of the 450,000-strong National Education Union has been called on to back his plans.

Powell-Davies, who is campaigning to be deputy general secretary, believes there should be a phased transition to a full re-opening.

He is demanding class sizes of just 50 per cent and that school openings are triggered only once there are falling local infection rates.

He said: “If those decisions are not met then employers will be failing in their duties. They will be creating a serious and imminent risk in not taking action to prevent it.

“They may do that, we can’t fail our responsibilities.

“That’s why if those rates and those steps are not met then we have to say we ballot across the employer so that if a spike does occur by Easter, we will be there with an industrial action ballot ready to protect our members and our communities.”

Powell-Davies will take part in a virtual meeting today with one of the union’s campaigning factions.

The Education Solidarity Network is discussing how to use its “collective strength” to oppose a “reckless full return” in a week’s time.

The intervention by Powell-Davies comes after Boris Johnson said kids will return on March 8 – the first stage of his plan to ease national restrictions.

The strike threat was widely criticised by MPs and campaigners last night as many pupils have spent as little as 60 days in the classroom since the first lockdown last March.

Powell-Davies has called the PM’s re-opening plan “completely reckless”.

He added that it was a step that “risks a surge” in infections and yet another lockdown.

He was once called the angry “young” man in the National Union of Teachers leader race and he makes no secret of his hard-left stance. Teachers and pupils at secondary schools will be tested for Covid when they go back.

Experts on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies have warned the R rate, which tracks how quickly the virus spreads, will be pushed back above 1 with the re-opening.

But chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty said last week: “It’s universally ac­c­ep­ted there are huge ad­vantages for children to be in school from a health point of view, mental and physical, as well as from educational and a life-course point of view.

“We have a natural firebreak in the Easter holidays and these five weeks to work out how things are going.”

Families test plan

FAMILIES with school-age kids will be offered free Covid tests to do at home twice a week to ensure the restart to lessons is safe.

Rapid test kits will be available from more than 500 sites from tomorrow and will be offered to the whole household, including childminders, even if no one has symptoms.

They can detect cases in less than 30 minutes, meaning those who test positive can isolate immediately.

It will also give families peace of mind to know that kids are not bringing the virus home and spreading it.

Tory MP Bim Afolami said last night: “Every day a school is closed is a bad day for children. Schools exist for their benefit, not the benefit of ideological teaching unions.

“Most people understand that. Shame that many teaching unions don’t.”

A spokesman for the National Education Union last night declined to comment.

A union insider said that they will continue to make the case for a phased return rather than a “big bang”.

Meanwhile, teaching bodies have accused ministers of letting down school staff by not prioritising them for a Covid vaccine.

They will not get the automatic green light even once everyone over 50 has been offered one.

Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of teaching union the NASUWT, said it risks further school closures. He said: “There is a need for leadership from the Government on this issue. There has been overwhelming support from across the political spectrum for teachers and education staff to be made a priority for vaccinations.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the Government’s argument that it added “some complexity” was not enough.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said moving down the age groups was “fastest and simplest”.

Professor Wei Shen Lim, of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said a job-based system would speed up jabs only by around a week.

 

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