UK: Trade unions highlight the unequal impact of COVID-19 on students

published 2 November 2020 updated 10 November 2020

Disadvantaged children and young people, as well as students from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities will be given additional priorityby teacher unions in the United Kingdom (UK). The unions have reaffirmed their commitment to help mitigate the negative impact of the COVID-19 crisis on their students’ education.

The National Education Union (NEU) and NASUWT–The Teachers’ Union reacted d to reports on welfare concerns for students in BAME communities. These concerns became even greater due to  the challenges of remote learning in disadvantaged communities.

NEU: No Plan B for remote learning

High numbers of pupils and staff have had to isolate in recent weeks due to COVID-19 cases in their school. According to NEU Deputy General Secretary Avis Gilmore, “no substantial Plan B for remote learning was forthcoming”, even though the union has repeatedly called on the Government to prepare for this possibility. “What little advice there was finally appeared on the bank [public] holiday weekend in late August, which points to Government incompetence at best and irresponsibility at worse.”

The NEU was responding on to a 28 October analysis by the Education Policy Institute (EPI), School attendance rates across the UK since full reopening. The EPI is an independent, evidence-based research institute that aims to promote high-quality education outcomes for young people. Gilmore said that the EPI analysis made it clear that Education Secretary “Gavin Williamson has much to do if he is to make good on his promise to support every child through lockdown and beyond, as well as vulnerable pupils and those with special educational needs and disability”.

Different outcomes for children from different backgrounds

He stressed that the EPI’s analysis showed that, “unsurprisingly”, higher-income families were better positioned to make home learning work. “The Government was keen to appear as heroes of disadvantaged pupils during the summer, but the evidence to the contrary has been mounting,” Gilmore said.

In addition, “setting aside the disgraceful decision not to proceed with free school meals during autumn terms”, his union saw the rationing of laptops for those who need them while at the same time imposing a legal duty on schools to provide remote learning. This doubles the difficulties faced by disadvantaged children and young people when trying to access learning, he said.

“This, in turn, raises further concerns about the viability of exams in 2021,” Gilmore underlined. “We are calling on Gavin Williamson to rethink his totally inadequate plan which right now is letting everyone down, staff, and students alike.”

NASUWT: Disproportionate impact on students from BAME backgrounds

NASUWT–The Teachers’ Union General Secretary Patrick Roach, stated, “The disproportionate impact which this pandemic is having on the health, welfare, safety, and economic security of Black, Asian and minority ethnic people in this country is not random., It was foreseeable and is the result of decades of structural racism and inequality that continues to pervade every area of our society and economy.”

Roach also agreed with the findings of a report on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on those from BAME backgrounds. The report was authored by Baroness Doreen Lawrence and commissioned by the Labour Party.

The union leader recalled that Prime Minister Boris Johnson had promised to ensure that employers would look after their workers and that workplaces would be “COVID-secure and COVID-compliant”.

Racial equality impact of reopening of schools

However, the evidence of racial disparities points to the contrary, he said. “The NASUWT has been calling on the Government for months to publish its assessment of the racial equality impact of its decisions on the reopening of schools, but the Government has refused to do so. Given the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 infections and deaths among BAME communities, many will question what the Government is hiding.”

Without clear, coherent, and concrete action by the Government to address the racialised impact of this pandemic, the cycle of discrimination and racial injustice will continue, Roach warned.

“The Government has an opportunity to make a difference by publishing the race equality impact assessments it has undertaken and by providing clear guidance to employers on the steps they can take to make workplaces safer places for BAME workers.”