Kingston NEU workers union slam Covid chaos at schools

Education workers in Kingston have slammed the chaotic policies on schools in relation to the latest coronavirus restrictions, as the National Education Union (NEU) confirmed an increase in their membership in the borough amid the pandemic.

NEU members in Kingston said they were “dismayed”, “angry” and “fearful” at the confusion surrounding instructions on schools and coronavirus, which were previously ordered to open after the Christmas break but are now being told to stay closed due to Covid-19 concerns.

Some schools including those in Kingston had previously been told to reopen after Christmas, prompting a fierce backlash from the NEU, only for the government to later concede that the policy was too risky because they could act as ‘vectors’ and spread the virus further.

“Members generally were dismayed, concerned, angry, annoyed, confused and fearful las we knew that the number of cases in Kingston was continuing to grow exponentially and our infection rate per 100,000 was greater than some of the other boroughs who were included in the ‘delayed start to face-to-face teaching for primary pupils’,” NEU Kingston’s Branch and District Secretary Khawer Siddiqi told the Surrey Comet.

The NEU had insisted over Christmas it would not be safe for schools to reopen amid soaring cases in London and across the UK, a position the government conceded this week.

“It seemed that no consideration was given to the fact that pupils travel across boroughs, Kingston has pupils who come to us from other boroughs who were asked to have a ‘Delayed start’,” Saddiqi added, pointing out that the government initially gave conflicting advice for some schools in London.

Kingston Council (RBK) have also been critical of the government’s approach to the handling of schools in this latest phase of the pandemic.

“We were appalled at the way the news was announced which showed a dreadful lack of respect for headteachers and the school community….we were also clear that we could see no rationale for the government’s decision,” a spokesperson for the council told the Surrey Comet.

“We played our part in the collective action to protest against the government’s incomprehensible approach to the reopening of schools in some London boroughs,” they added.

The council said it agrees with the closures and would be continuing to communicate closely with education unions and teachers in Kingston, while including all three special schools in Kingston in their Covid testing programme.

Siddiqi meanwhile said the NEU had seen a “substantial increase in membership and rep density in Kingston” in recent weeks during the union’s stand against the government.

He added that the Kingston branch of the union, like the NEU more generally, was now lobbying for a series of new measures to be brought in with the aim of supporting remote learning and keeping those teachers who still needed to attend school as safe as possible.

Among them are the “provision of suitable technology to all households ” and no face-to-face meetings or training.

Click here for our latest coverage of coronavirus in Kingston. 

Surrey Comet | Kingston