Government investment in schools. A thirtieth of what’s needed.

In Billions by 2030. Figures from Teach the Future

This graph shows that the government’s planned investment of £1 billion in the schools estate over ten years is less than one sixth of what is needed just to deal with repairs and just one pound for every twenty three that would be needed to make all our school buildings zero carbon by 2030.

This is not preparing a shiny new future, more “make do and mend” while we wait for the apocalypse.

Teacher verdict: “Must try harder.”

The only way is up?

Public Health England figures for “acute respiratory outbreaks” in schools. Reported June 25.

The trend in these figures is clear. Not quite doubling every week since additional students have returned to school; with the trend accelerating slightly.

We can be sure therefore that the reluctance of parents to send their children back – with attendance figures averaging around a third of those eligible on June 18th – has prevented these figures being worse, and the successful campaign by the Education Unions to prevent a reckless wholesale reopening of Primary Schools at the end of June will have saved lives.

There are three and a half weeks to the end of term. Extrapolating the trend in these figures would mean acute respiratory outbreaks in schools running at 80 at the end of this week, 144 the week after that, then 264 at the end of the third week and 374 by the end of term. The Summer break will then be a natural firebreak until September.

There are a number of issues with mechanical extrapolation, but its fair to say the following I think.

  1. The more students go back before the end of term, the more chance there is of an acute viral outbreak.
  2. The wider reopening of the economy – that the government has encouraged without either adequate test and trace, a functioning App tracker, clear legislation to require health and safety measures and guidelines that change with the latest pressure from business lobbies – is as likely to increase the rate of infections as have similar measures in the United States.

With the news (1) that official SAGE has advised that track and trace must be in place before widening access to schools and the absence of any credible timeline for the tracing App actually functioning, this makes the prospect of schools fully reopening in September another “cross your fingers and whistle in hope” operation by the government. Consultation and negotiation with the teaching unions and local authorities should be happening now to plan for a number of contingencies with the NEU’s 10 point plan as a starting point (2).

1.https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/26/improve-test-and-trace-before-schools-reopen-sage-report-says

2. https://neu.org.uk/press-releases/coronavirus-national-education-recovery-plan

A very hungry – and rather scary – caterpillar.

Cue Jaws Music

I believe this to be a Gypsy Moth caterpillar crawling along under our letterbox. We discovered another exploring our kitchen ceiling on Saturday night and removed it carefully – which is just as well. Its unfriendly appearance (and apparent immunity to predators) is not accidental. When stressed, the fine hairs that cover its back are released and have been known to cause respiratory problems and rashes in people; so no wonder the birds and foxes leave them alone.

It is not small but it is, like the caterpillar in the children’s book, very hungry indeed. This is the impact of a plague of them on the beech hedge out front; which was healthily green until a couple of days ago.

The locusts have struck.

Last night my downstairs neighbour was spraying something on a clutch of them steadily munching their way through the few remaining leaves. They paid no attention and just kept chomping through the leaf, systematically from right to left, leaving nothing but bare brown stalks.

They have now moved all the way down and devastated the hedge in front of the flats either side and are crawling up the outside walls completely impervious to possible predation.

Not so much a mountain more a roller coaster?

If you look at figure 11 in the government’s latest coronavirus weekly surveillance report (1) which covers the sites for the spread of infectious respiratory disease going back to last autumn, you will notice several things.

1. Schools can be a very serious hub for disease transmission. Weeks 46 to 52 – the end of the autumn term – show schools as the main hub for transmitting last winter’s seasonal flu.

2. Schools were beginning to be a hub for the spread of Coronavirus at the end of March (week 12) until closing them for the overwhelming majority of pupils snuffed that out.

3. Now that more students are going back – even in relatively controlled conditions – schools are again becoming a hub for transmission. This is still quite small thankfully, but in week 23 (the week from June 1st – which was the first week that the government wanted students in Nursery, Reception and Years 1 and 6 to go back) there were 14 outbreaks in school settings. An outbreak is defined as two or more people getting the same illness which “appears to be linked to a particular setting”. Two points should be stressed. This is a real but small increase. It remains to be seen if this is sustained. But this is in the context of relatively few, even of the students the government had targeted for that week, actually going back. More went back in week 24 and yet more from this week (Week 25). The next report will indicate the impact of this.

4. The overall number of acute respiratory infections went UP for the first time since Week 15 in mid April, indicating that passing the peak is not the same as controlling the virus.

1.https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/891721/Weekly_COVID19_Surveillance_Report_-_week_24.pdf

Life and death in a time of plague.

Our UKIP voting neighbours now keep their St George’s cross flag on display at all times; hanging down the front of the house from the upstairs window, waiting for the 6 Nations to recommence. Throughout “lockdown” it has been impossible not to think of the red crosses painted as a warning on the front doors of plague victims in the good old days.

Since the “easing’ of “lockdown” a sign of frantic commercial activity has been the reappearance of the local ice cream van – which now comes round with relentless regularity playing its tinkly alpine tune which is redolent of happy Nazis in lederhosen yodelling at Berchtesgarden. Given the prospect of a second spike, the death march might be more appropriate.

The traffic is coming back. Noisy, smelly, polluting, moving too fast, making everything even more edgy. A lot of drivers wearing masks, staring urgently. Honking horns are just too loud, expressing fear thats bottled up.

There has been a double murder in our local park. A secluded place that feels like the countryside once you’re in it. A place people would escape to for peace and quiet and to help their children feed the horses, watch a heron flap slowly up from a pond, take in the view and breathe. A place full of memories of moments of reprieve – now overlaid by crime tape, a photo of two forensic tents, photos of the two dead women stabbed at midnight, bunches of flowers mourning both them and everyone’s loss of a sense of safety.

R rate increase makes this a crunch week

The Virus is still very much with us. The R rate for London is back up to 0.95 from the 0.4 that was being cited just last week. The lowest rate in the country is back up to 0.89 – very dangerous territory and becoming more so.

If this government – which has presided over one of the worst death rates in the world – continues reopening the economy despite this increase in the R rate, it is declaring that it is putting profits above people; and that their strategy for the second wave is to “let it rip” (as Martin Wolf of the FT puts it). 
 
Its clear from what they have done during the crisis what the government will do after the crisis (or, more to the point, during its second phase). 

They have used it as an opportunity to divert resources away from the NHS into private provision in a way that has made the services provided incoherent and inefficient; and the result has been lost lives.

Why set up track and trace though outsourcing to SERCO when you can do it through GPs – which would have worked better? Why outsource tests to US labs – which makes turn round times absurdly slow – rather than using resources in the NHS?


They will seek to divert the costs of recovery onto Local Authorities by not funding them to cover the additional costs. These will not be cuts to the bone, but cuts through it.

The “stimulus package” that they have provided during the crisis has been to save companies not jobs. George Osborne is now arguing that – because smaller scale private companies will be unable to survive without it – the state will have to subsidise them – with no strings or social obligations attached; and that the cost of doing so will have to be borne by the rest of us; in the same way that we paid up to keep the bankers in the manner to which they were accustomed after 2008. That will mean a significant transfer of wealth from those least able to afford it to those who already have more than they know what to do with. That is why Stock Markets have been booming during this crisis. They see the outcome as potentially profitable.


There is a clear alternative. No funding for companies that avoid tax, underpay workers, or refuse to meet environmental obligations is a bottom line. But state led direct investment in the green transition has to be the backbone of ant recovery that actually allows us to recover. If we don’t do that, recovery from COVID19 is just giving us a little while longer before civilisation crashes and burns under the impact of global heating. We should all be pushing that alternative. Check out the Build Back Better Campaign being launched on Monday by 80 different organisations from Greenpeace and FOE to the NEU, UKSCN, UNISON, PCS, MEDACT and many more. https://www.buildbackbetteruk.org/


Already, companies – like BA – are beginning to offer workers a choice between losing their jobs or being kept on on cut wages. The reduction in government support for the furlough scheme will bring a rush of these. If this becomes widespread it means a) poverty and b) a longer recession – because people with lower incomes buy fewer goods, which leads to lower demand and so on down into a depressionary spiral.

These measures have been much more common in the US up to now – which may be one reason why discontent with their government has exploded more spectacularly than it has with ours so far (though there are obviously other reasons, not least the failings of US private health care, the failure of the state to provide income support during lockdowns and, of course the structural racism that runs through US society and policing).

The government will attempt to divert attention from their failures by blaming a few thousand young people going on Black Lives Matter demos for the rise in the R rate; even though the government is getting millions of people to go back to work. Tube journeys were up by 10% in London within two days of the government easing restrictions.

These spontaneous demonstrations of anger and fear are partly an expression of the grotesque discriminatory effects of the virus in the UK as well as the US, hitting communities that are worse off, live in more overcrowded conditions, often have poorer health and disproportionately work in front line services (even without the scandal that BAME health workers have been disproportionately deployed on COVID wards and found it harder to get PPE).

So standing with BAME communities this week is also urgent.

The government is on thin ice. Johnson’s approval rating is in very sharp decline. The extent to which they can get away with any of the above will depend on the extent to which they run into opposition.

So hitting them hard in the immediate crisis over the increasing R rate is crucial.

Everyone, as an individual or part of every organisation we are in should

1 Call for an immediate pause to lifting lockdown restrictions – as lifting the restrictions lifts the death rate. 

2 Councils should advise schools to delay widening access until the R rate is manageable.

3 Support the Stand Up to Racism take the knee demos at home every Wednesday at 6pm and support the online rally on Sunday. Details here. http://www.standuptoracism.org.uk/taketheknee-next-actions-after-major-day-of-action-involving-thousands/

The National Education Union has opposed wider school reopening precisely because the R level is too high (and testing, tracking and isolation is not in place). As a result, it has strengthened as an organisation – with an additional 20 000 members joining up and 2 000 of them coming forward as school Reps. more importantly, its campaign – leading the other education unions, has significantly pushed the government’s schedule off course, thereby slowing down the increase in the R rate, which would have been even worse if all schools had done what the government wanted; and thereby saved lives.

The end of the American Century: Why Stephen Kinnock is wrong to line up against China.

The post that follows was written yesterday. Before President Trump threatened to deploy troops to America streets and called for Governors to “dominate” them so they did not “look like jerks” with a thinly veiled call for the sort of right wing militias that have been demonstrating against lockdown to mobilise in defence of “Second Amendment rights”. Before a peaceful demonstration outside the White House was suddenly set upon by a close range volley of tear gas and a baton charge to give Trump a counterpoint image to his photo opp’ standing outside a church holding up a Bible – as though he were testifying. Before one of the men in black smashing windows in Minneapolis was filmed and exposed as an undercover cop. A lot can change in a day. An excellent analysis of why this latest in a long series of racist murders has led to such a widespread rebellion can be read here. https://www.learningfromchina.net/racist-killing-of-george-floyd-ignites-us-rebellion/

In some ways, Stephen Kinnock reminds me of my paternal grandmother. All through my childhood, my Nan would turn up wearing one of those moulded felt hats that were terribly fashionable in her youth in the twenties and thirties. This was completely authentic and acted as a generational marker. Old lady hats. There were a lot of them in the High Street. Kinnock is the same, but with a world view.

His statement on China on May 17th – presented as significant hardening of Labour’s policy stance – along with Keir Starmer’s announcement that Labour would not be pushing for an extension to the EU transition period – is part of a process whereby Labour is being driven to make peace with the Johnson government’s aim to align the UK with the US as a framework for attacks on UK labour and environmental standards. This can’t come without buying into the USAs intensifying new cold war confrontation with China. This will both make resistance to the domestic impact of this far more difficult and is a worrying sign of how far the current Labour leadership is willing to abandon doing so; and is also entirely the wrong global choice.

It is an old script. From Suez to Reagan, the Labour right tended to see the USA as a more modern, dynamic and democratic version of capitalism than that represented by the British old school tie establishment. After the Reagan – Thatcher alignment this view lost ground to Europhilia, but Atlanticism remained a default faith on the right that was always far more fundamental. Tony Blair’s position was to straddle both – to act as a conduit and agent for US interests in the EU; which he always described as being a”bridge”. This was consistent, even as the Blair-Clinton bromance made way for the more openly abusive relationship with George W “Yo Blair!” Bush; in which Blair’s role as willing hewer of wood, drawer of water and purveyor of messages for the State Department became humiliatingly apparent. His instruction to his Washington ambassador to “get up the arse of the White House and stay there” sums up the quality of this relationship; which led us inexorably to Afghanistan and Iraq; and the consequent hollowing out of the “New Labour” project.

An overtly Atlanticist stance – even without the intensifying subordination that would follow a trade deal – remains default UK foreign policy. The branding of the “special relationship” is a self soothing and delusionary cover for the inability of the UK ruling class to defend its global interests on its own. It follows therefore that if Labour is seeking to be a statespersonlike “Party of Power” – that seeks to manage the interests of the people who own the country, rather then challenge them on behalf of the majority of people who live in it – it has to follow suit as part of a “national consensus” that cannot be challenged. This may be grudgingly held in parts of the Party, but even the view that, although the USA is not a very good example – its sheer power makes accommodating to it unavoidable – is as out of date as my Nan’s hats in the period of Donald Trump.

There is an increasing disconnect between the ideas that justify this Atlanticism and the reality of the world around us. First the reality, then the ideas.

Trump’s “America First” policy has replaced raw power mediated through multilateral institutions which massaged the egos of subordinated allies, with raw power nakedly exposed and increasingly an overt threat to others; including traditional allies who might have previously considered themselves sheltered by proximity. This is not a personal quirk of Trump’s – or even an expression of the real estate/fossil fuel nexus that he represents.

We are in the twilight of the American Century. The triumphalist “unipolar moment”thirty years ago, the “End of History” moment after the implosion of the Soviet Union, which brought with it a near universal presumption that the future of the world was to become a gigantic American suburb, is long gone. For the first time in over 100 years, the USA is not the world’s largest economy. This is a big deal. Even at its strongest, the Soviet economy was never larger than one seventh of the USA; and technically less sophisticated almost across the board. Although it remains the world’s largest rich economy and by far the world’s dominant military power – with as much spending on its armed forces as everyone else combined, bases all round the globe and continuous military interventions to keep it well oiled and ready to go, its economy is now smaller than that of China; and every day that passes makes the gap bigger. The impact of the coronavirus pandemic, which China contained and the US is failing to, has dramatically sped this up. The IMF projects that the US economy will barely have grown in the next two years, while China’s will be over 10% bigger. This makes it likely that the US will do more drastic things under greater pressure; which makes it a very dangerous moment in world history.

This presents a contradiction for people on the right of the Labour Party whose notion of “global leadership” is that the United States is the only country that can provide it. Calls for global co-operation fall into the vacu’um created by “America First” and are increasingly unhinged from what’s actually going on. Lisa Nandy says that “no global problem can be solved without input from China” but poses relations with it as a firmly subordinated member of a set of US alliances, even as the US itself trashes them. This is also a dangerous dynamic for Labour.

Even without the impact of the Coronavirus crisis the US faced a strategic choice of either accommodating and seeking collaborative peaceful solutions to the huge challenges facing humanity (what the Chinese call a “win-win” approach) – or to rage against the dying of the light of “full spectrum dominance” and hitting out to stop it. It is the tragedy of our time that the entire US establishment favours the latter. Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State was author of the “tilt to the Pacific” – an attempt to concentrate US power on containing and disrupting China. Joe Biden’s Presidential campaign this year has tried to outdo Trump in Sinophobia. This is a real threat to the world.

If you look at the most fundamental challenges facing humanity now,

  • the inability of neo liberal capitalism to offer a safe and prosperous future,
  • the climate crisis,
  • coronavirus

all of them have dramatically increased the pace at which the United States is ceasing to be “the one indispensable nation” or model for anyone’s future – even its own. The riots currently erupting across the country sparked by racist police brutality means that the “shining city on a hill is burning.” China, by contrast, is still pulling its people out of poverty while investing massively in green technology. China is committed to the Paris Agreement and international co-operation to avert climate breakdown. The US has pulled out and is organising others to sabotage it, threatening the survival of human civilisation. Perhaps Stephen Kinnock could reflect on which of these courses is preferable?

The slow burning chronic conditions of the first two challenges is dramatised now by the third acute crisis.

Put very simply. China, after an initial fumble by local officials, rapidly worked out what the virus is, shared the information with the international community through the WHO, took swift and dramatic action at significant cost to their domestic economy as soon as they realised how dangerous it is and eliminated domestic infections within 6 weeks of the Wuhan lockdown; shutting it in and closing it down.

This has saved up to 11.5 million lives in China and goodness knows how many outside had they fumbled it.  The continuous efforts by right wing politicians and media pundits to divert blame for their own failure to act on the warnings they were given – in January lets not forget – by concentrating obsessively on that initial fumble, is entirely shameless.

The United States, by contrast, has acted like a failed rogue state; and the UK has acted – as it so often does – as its Ruritanian echo.

The US was the epicentre of the Coronavirus pandemic for over a month, with between a quarter and a third of global deaths every day; only in the last week being eclipsed by Trump’s Brazilian acolyte helping push Latin America into the charnel house.

There have now been more deaths in the USA than there were cases in China; and with the current chaotic re-openings in so many states this has a long way to run. The death toll can only rise.

The Trump administration has been chaotic, brash, swaggering, ignorant. Trump denied the significance of the virus, thought it could be containable by stopping Chinese people from visiting, opined that it would all just “go away” like “a miracle”, made a big thing about not wearing a mask and provided covering fire by Tweet for Alt Right militias who demonstrated against State lockdowns carrying automatic weapons. Meanwhile, the drumbeat of Wall Street Journal editorials calling for the economy to come first was echoed over here by Dominic Cummings’s remark that UK government strategy was “herd immunity to protect the economy and if some pensioners die too bad.”

The failure of the US Health Care system to cope is clear. As Chief Medical Officer Anthony Fauci said to the Senate “We’re not set up for this.”

The failure to provide PPE and the allocation of ventilators by bidding on the open market rather than on a needs first basis has become a scandal. “Why can’t a country that can equip its police so they look like soldiers, equip its doctors so they look like doctors?”

-Underlying this, the number of inpatient beds in US hospitals declined by 39% between 1981 and 1999, to achieve a profit maximising occupancy ratio of 90%: which has meant that hospitals are unable to cope with epidemics and medical emergencies. The 2009 and 2018 flu seasons overwhelmed hospitals, showing how “just in time” practices are vulnerable to anything even slightly beyond normal.

– Local and State Health Departments have 25% fewer staff than before the 2008 crash and the CDCs budget has been cut by 10%.

– Trump deepened this by cutting the White House Pandemic Office and the pandemic PREDICT project – which had identified 1 000 potentially dangerous viruses – at the end of last year.

– The private sector does not do this work. Of the 18 largest Pharmaceutical companies, only three are researching antivirals and new antibiotics – because Heart medication, addictive tranquilizers and male impotence treatments are infinitely more profitable. (1)

45% of the US workforce is not eligible for statutory sick pay and one off grant of $1 200 meant to cover them was described by investment banker and Secretary to the Treasury Steve Mnuchin as sufficient to last for “about ten weeks”. $120 a week. Just $17 a day. Mnuchin, who has a “net worth” of $3-400 million, is paid $210,700 a year; $677 a day.

-The Coronavirus relief package meanwhile provides relief primarily to those that don’t need it. 95% of the people who benefit from an $82 billion tax relief earn over $200 000 a year. Meanwhile, over 40 million workers now have no job and therefore have lost the health insurance that goes with them. As one dying man in New York put it just before he was put on a ventilator, “Who is going to pay for this?”

The failure to eliminate the virus domestically that follows from this mixture of privatised, profit driven provision and chaotic political leadership, is a threat to every other country with which the USA does business – particularly those in the developing world with a weak health infrastructure.

Even worse, internationally, they have pulled funding from the WHO and tried to discredit it, hampering global co-ordination. They have maintained and intensified medical sanctions on countries they disapprove of like Iran; aiming to use a medical disaster for geo political advantage. They have gazumped and diverted PPE supplies destined for other countries.

And their President has suggested that we might like to mainline Dettol or use inappropriate lupus medication (in which he holds shares) while we wait for a vaccine which, for him, should be patented for America First and which – if developed by a private company – should not allow generic copies so the company is rewarded for its investment to the cost of those who can’t afford to buy it.

On the other hand, China is now aiding 150 other countries (thats more than three quarters of every country in the world)- and some US States directly, bypassing the Federal government; and the Cubans – of course – are sending Doctors everywhere they can. Again, Stephen Kinnock might like to reflect on who has handled this better and why and what this means about what global leadership looks like.

Kinnock, in order to disguise this obvious contrast and its far reaching implications, reframes the reality inside a set of cliches which disguise more than they illuminate.

Kinnock argues that, because the UK has a trade deficit with China, China must be “taking us for a ride.” On this logic, so are all the countries in the EU, which also sell more to the UK than they buy from it, while countries like Switzerland, Australia and Brazil, which buy more from the UK than they sell to it, must be being “taken for a ride” by the UK. This way of posing the swings and roundabouts of international trade as zero sum us vs them rhetoric is an intentional echo of Trump’s trade war rhetoric and measures and Boris Johnson’s fantasies of manufacturing “self sufficiency” as a requirement of “national security” – as though there is sufficient capital that could be profitable invested in reconstructing, say cement plants. It makes no sense but it helps to pose things in a hostile framework.

China is “authoritarian”. The US and UK are “democracies”. There is at least a negative tension in this, because whatever people’s view of China, there is less and less traction in the view that the US is any kind of democratic model worth following or allying with, and the current upsurge of protest at yet another killing of a black citizen by the police is as good a definition of “authoritarian’ as any. This wave of police brutality and riots has not attracted the same sort of cross Party condemnation in Westminster and calls to reset our economic and diplomatic relationship with the USA; nor any reflection on what these events reflect of the essence of the USA as a state, as the conflict in Hong Kong has vis a vis China. No suggestion from Jacob Rees Mogg to set up a USA Research Group.

When it comes to supporting authoritarian regimes, or staging coups to install them, the USA is in a league of its own, but its stock in trade internationally is to claim that movements it supports, often trains and finances, are the representatives of “human rights” against regimes of which it disapproves. This is accompanied by wildly exaggerated narratives. The most extreme of these in relation to China, also cited by Kinnock, is Xinjiang. The claims that “up to” 2 million Uighurs are kept in concentration camps gets wide circulation in the developed world and is taken as good coin in the media here; though sensitive souls in the Guardian slip in weasel words like “alleged”. The US narrative is not believed at all in the developing world and denied by every significant Muslim country, Iran, Pakistan, even close US ally Saudi Arabia; and for good reason. Such a vast penitentiary system would be visible from satellites and plenty of photos would be available. Such that exist are of relatively small complexes completely compatible with the Chinese explanation that they have 14 000 people in re-education centres as part of a strategy to suppress a Jihadist separatist movement which has carried out hundreds of terrorist attacks up to three years ago and that these centres are run with more attention to human rights than US internment camps like Guantanamo Bay. (2) Considering how creative the US State Department was with satellite photos of trucks purporting to be mobile WMD launchers to justify the Iraq war, the relative absence of even doctored images is telling.

The irony of this is that the USA itself holds over 2 million people in its prisons. A quarter of the entire world’s prison population is held in the USA. As neo liberal economic policies took hold there was an exponential increase in numbers incarcerated, from 200 000 in 1972 to 2.1 million today. Truly “the Land of the Free” is a “world leader in incarceration.” (3)

Your chances of being shot dead in the streets by the police is also far greater in the USA than in China. From 2017 to the end of 2019, 2 987 people were killed in US streets by the police. The figure for China was 3. I was going to do a graph, but it would look silly.

The USA is undoubtedly the best democracy that money can buy. Despite the tensions now running through the Democrat Party, with the Bernie Sanders campaigns reflecting the growing popular support for socialist solutions like Medicare for all, the USA is not so much a one party state as a state with two parties that are so similar on fundamentals that the election of either makes no fundamental difference to the wealth and power of the 1% who own the country.

The current President was elected on a minority of the popular vote, as was George W Bush in 2000; thanks to the peculiarities of the Electoral College, The Senate gives greater weight to small rural states than large urban ones. As US comedian Bill Maher put it, “why do we need two Dakotas?” Presidential, Congressional and State level elections are bought wholesale by corporate PACS set up by billionaires, so there is no risk that anyone elected might challenge their interests. Election Districts at local level are gerrymandered because the State governments in power get to redraw them every ten years.

China has a different system. The Chinese Communist Party is not a secret cabal. It has 90 million members, 1 person in every 15 in the entire population and more people than live in Germany. This is a mass Party organising and embedded at every level in Chinese society and communication is not just top down. It has an enormous standing and support among the population at large and this is not the transactional thin veneer hoped for by hostile western commentators. This has been dramatically reinforced since it has so successfully eliminated domestic infections of COVID19. Anyone who knows anyone in China is reporting that people there are looking at the complete shit show in the West in horror. (4) There is a huge and lively debate on social media and a definite left, which overwhelmingly supports the CCP even if its not in it. The widespread criticism on social media of the initial failings in Wuhan and the rapid response to it support neither the narrative of a cowed population not that of a sclerotic leadership. Quite the opposite.

By “authoritarian” Kinnock is also having a jab at something he – and the rest of the labour movement – should be aspiring to. The private sector, although it exists and is a significant force, is not in charge in China. The Party and the state are. The state uses its authority to keep capital at heel. That is why China has continued to grow, providing a trade boost to many other countries, continued to improve the living standards of its population and to invest in renewable energy on a scale that gives the rest of the world some hope we can deal with climate change without a total economic collapse. Whatever critique can be made of this or that aspect of Chinese policy or practice, that central fact should be salient for everyone on the left. It is very much up front for people on the right, who want to overturn it. They were prepared to go along with increased trade and other relations with China, so long as that carried with it the prospect of increasing alignment with “western norms.” In other words, that China should adopt the same sort of policies on investment and economic orthodoxy that has led the “West’ to stagnation, austerity for most, and the mind boggling concentration of wealth in the hands of a few individuals and corporations.

An argument has to be had across the Labour movement, to oppose this drift to line up behind the USA in its cold war offensive. The issues are concrete. Economic recovery requires massive state investment. Global recovery requires an end to destabilising US interventions. Dealing with climate change requires doubling down on the Paris process and deepening it. Labour should be on the correct side of all these issues.

1. Figures from Mike Davis. The Monster Enters. New Left Review 122. March- April 2020

2. https://news.cgtn.com/news/2019-12-09/West-is-accomplice-of-terrorism-by-demonizing-China-s-Xinjiang-policy-MhABSjOZlm/index.html

3. https://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/incarceration-rates-by-country/

4. https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/05/14/xi-jinping-good-emperor-coronavirus/

The Sick Man of Europe.

The UK government is like a mountaineer who decides that because he has “passed the peak” its safe to jump down the other side of the mountain.

As it tries to bounce parents to send their kids back to school and the newspapers try to generate a euphoric debate about how soon this or that sector of the economy can get going, it is as well to remember just how badly the UK is still doing and just how perilous this makes the coming weeks.

The graph below shows the daily COVID19 deaths across Europe on May 24th – the day that Boris Johnson announced a significant easing of the already very limited UK lockdown; including the partial reopening of schools on June 1st. It shows that the UK deaths reported that day were almost three times higher than the next highest country.

chart (23)

Although this is a daily snapshot, this pattern of very high deaths in the UK compared to other European countries is consistent. If you check out the graph in the source (1) and check back – there is only one day in the whole of May in which any other country had a worse daily death toll than the UK.

This graph shows the new infections for Friday May 29 (2). Again, the UK stands out as by far the worse case.

chart (24)

Its as well to reflect also that this total of juts over 2 000 are the daily infections that have been tested for. In the same press briefing as Boris Johnson claimed this a sign of how low they were getting, Sir Patrick Vallance pointed out that the actual level is probably more like 8 000 and the Kings College App projection is 9 000. That means that there is a known unknown of 6 – 7 000 cases that are on no one’s radar. Dido Harding, who is in charge of getting the Test Track and Isolate system up and running, admits that this won’t be working properly until the end of June.

In THIS situation, the government wants children, 5, 6 and 10 year olds, to go back to school, where they will be in “bubbles” of 15 other children, a teacher and a TA. They can then go home and their families can meet up to 6 people socially. Meanwhile, their parents can have been at work and meeting any number of other people in workplaces that are supposed to be socially distanced “where possible”; because it is completely unreasonable to require the normal functioning of business to be impeded by concerns about the health of workers.

This is why every school that stays shut, every parent who keeps their child at home, every teacher or TA who stand together to refuse to go back to an unsafe workplace (see preceding post: A Safety Net thats largely loopholes) will be saving lives. And that is why the National Education Union and the other education unions are in the front line of defending not only their members and the school communities they serve, but also the whole of society.

1. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1102288/coronavirus-deaths-development-europe/

2. https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/countries-where-coronavirus-has-spread/?fbclid=IwAR0oUKrzXTbYGvHmgftmtxwlP2zJ4f3TaXebJPIqoy5Ea02zLMQZOSYOCQE

 

 

A safety net that’s largely loopholes. DFE guidelines on reopening schools.

Lets start with the really young children. Here’s what the DFE says about childcare settings for children younger than 4. Emphasis added.

In childcare settings, providers will be asked to welcome back all children below statutory school age from the week commencing 1 June. Demand for childcare is likely to be lower than usual at first, and existing space requirements and staff to child ratios for these age groups should allow for small group working. Where the physical layout of a setting does not allow small groups of children to be kept at a safe distance apart, we expect practitioners to exercise judgement in ensuring the highest standards of safety are maintained. In some cases, it may be necessary for providers to introduce a temporary cap on numbers to ensure that safety is prioritised. From 1 June, childminders can look after children of all ages, in line with usual limits on the number of children they can care for.

Well. How’s that for conditional? I have emphasised the slippery language. This translates as.

  • We want as many children as possible being looked after – so their parents can go back to work.
  • We know lots of parents don’t trust us enough to send their kids back, so that will mean there’s enough space to fit in those that do without us having to do anything special or lay down any unusual limits.
  • If there isn’t, its up to you how you sort that out, because the buck stops with you, not us.

Overall Guidelines for schools

Bearing in mind that their “ambition is to bring all primary year groups back to school before the summer holidays, for a month if feasible”, hence the rush to get Reception and Years 1 and 6 in as early as June 1st, this is the overall framework for doing this in “the safest way possible and limit the risk of the virus spreading in education and childcare settings.” These phrases contain uncertainty and concede before we start that there are going to be problems. The risk is there, but has to be limited – not eliminated. The procedures may be as safe as possible, but there is not guarantee that they will be as safe as they need to be.  Emphasis added.

  • minimising contact with individuals who are unwell by ensuring that those who have coronavirus symptoms, or who have someone in their household who does, do not attend childcare settings, schools or colleges. 
  • cleaning hands more often than usual – wash hands thoroughly for 20 seconds with running water and soap and dry them thoroughly or use alcohol hand rub or sanitiser ensuring that all parts of the hands are covered
  • ensuring good respiratory hygiene by promoting the ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ approach
  • cleaning frequently touched surfaces often using standard products, such as detergents and bleach
  • minimising contact and mixing by altering, as much as possible, the environment (such as classroom layout) and timetables (such as staggered break times).

This translates as….We are really hoping that no one asympotmatic comes in to work, but otherwise we are back to phase 1. Wash your hands while singing Happy Birthday, bin your tissues, clean your surfaces and stay in somewhat smaller groups than usual and…er, that’s it.

Of PPE, masks and bubbles

Government guidelines on wearing masks is that they should be worn in enclosed spaces, including public transport and shops where social distancing is not possible. DFE guidance says This does not apply to schools or other education settings – even though classrooms are enclosed spaces in which social distancing is not always possible (or desirable for educational purposes) and has been specifically ruled out as viable for younger year groups.

As the transmission of coronavirus is most intense in families, where people spend long periods of time together in small groups, DFE guidance for schools somewhat bizarrely aims to replicate this as much as possible; except that the small groups – or “bubbles” – are not so small. A maximum of 15 students and 2 adults who will spend all day together and away from all the other bubbles. In Denmark this was a group of 10. The larger number here being perhaps the educational embodiment of our far higher death rate and an indication of why we have had one.

The presumption is that these “bubbles” can be kept safe by making sure no one with any symptoms gets into them; and if any do, the separation of one bubble from another will contain the spread: on the same principle that the watertight compartments in the Titanic stopped the whole ship flooding and sinking, as we all recall. Moreover, as we know that Coronavirus can be transmitted for five days before any symptoms show up, the flaw in this argument is obvious.

Now to Clinical Vulnerability

A distinction is made between “extreme clinical vulnerability” and plain old “clinical vulnerability.” Put bluntly, if you are almost certain to die from contracting the virus “we strongly advise” that you stay at home; but if you just might die from it, the guidance says this.

If clinically vulnerable (but not clinically extremely vulnerable) individuals cannot work from home, they should be offered the safest available on-site roles, staying 2 metres away from others wherever possible, although the individual may choose to take on a role that does not allow for this distance if they prefer to do so. If they have to spend time within 2 metres of other people, settings must carefully assess and discuss with them whether this involves an acceptable level of risk.

In other words, you should be offered work in the “safest available” roles that allow you to stay 2 metres away from others “wherever possible”, but if those roles do not exist (I can’t think of any in a school outside of admin or senior management) and getting too close to other people is a necessary part of those that do, you “may choose” to be persuaded to accept that that level of risk is acceptable on the basis of a tokenistic risk assessment; and this will be your choice, because no manager want to have to carry the can for the pressure they put you under, or have it on their conscience if you get ill or die.

Here’s what they say about the risk of taking the virus home to someone who just might die from it.

If a child, young person or a member of staff lives with someone who is clinically vulnerable (but not clinically extremely vulnerable), including those who are pregnant, they can attend their education or childcare setting.

Lets not forget that their definition of “clinically vulnerable” is – “Clinically vulnerable … people are those considered to be at a higher risk of severe illness from coronavirus.” As they say “not all risk can be eliminated” (unless you actually have a policy and plan to eliminate the virus of course – perish the thought that we should expect a British government to be as determined or effective as the Chinese or New Zealanders) but this is setting people up to court a possibly fatal risk to their loved ones. This is probably how a journalist writing attack pieces from the safety of their home office for the Daily Mail or Express defines “heroic.”

They even suggest that a child who lives with someone in the extremely vulnerable category could be allowed to come to school if they were able to socially distance. This is the kind of guidance that makes the NEU’s description of the government’s approach as ‘reckless” seem mild.

Social distancing

Here are two sentences that contradict each other.

“…early years and primary age children cannot be expected to remain 2 metres apart from each other and staff. In deciding to bring more children back to early years and schools, we are taking this into account.”

So there will be no social distancing in Reception and Year 1. It might be thought that this would make these year groups the last ones that could be brought back safely. There is absolutely nothing in this guidance that addresses the particular needs or anxieties of children in this age group. Nothing. Just doing the handwash, surface clean, keep your distance (in a way that they have just conceded they can”t) routine is supposed to make sure “the risk of transmission will be lowered.” Note, not eliminated. If all this is done, all the time, and it all works, the risk will be “lowered.” Not exactly a ringing statement of confidence there. Of course, we are reasonable people and it would be quite unreasonable to expect that we could send our five year olds into school and expect them to be completely safe. Perhaps we should look at it as character building.

Contact tracing?

“The government is developing a new national test and trace programme. This will bring together an app, expanded web and phone-based contact tracing, and swab testing for those with potential coronavirus symptoms. This programme will play an important role in helping to minimise the spread of coronavirus in the future. It will also include more traditional methods of contact tracing if a child, young person or parent tests positive. This could include, for example, direct discussion with parents and schools or colleges on recent contacts. The government is recruiting 18,000 contact tracers to support contact tracing and will recruit more if needed. They will play an important part in tracing the contacts of those with coronavirus, including children.”

All very speculative. Not a sign of a worked out programme or policy. Nothing about how this would work, what the procedures would be, let alone when it might be in place. Given that running that this programme has been outsourced to SERCO – instead of run through GPs for example – there is no certainty here that such a system would even be in place, let alone rehearsed or tried and tested by June 1st. This is a bottom line they are trying to fudge.

If a child gets ill with any COVID symptoms

They should be sent home and…

“If a child is awaiting collection, they should be moved, if possible, to a room where they can be isolated behind a closed door, depending on the age of the child and with appropriate adult supervision if required. Ideally, a window should be opened for ventilation. If it is not possible to isolate them, move them to an area which is at least 2 metres away from other people.”

..and…

“If a member of staff has helped someone with symptoms, they do not need to go home unless they develop symptoms themselves (and in which case, a test is available) or the child subsequently tests positive. They should wash their hands thoroughly for 20 seconds after any contact with someone who is unwell. Cleaning the affected area with normal household disinfectant after someone with symptoms has left will reduce the risk of passing the infection on to other people.”

Given that it takes five days to develop symptoms this is completely rash. If the child does test positive, the member of staff may have been infected and be in contact with others for the rest of the day in their tight little bubble, possibly infecting several of them too before being tested themselves. They – and everyone else they have infected would then go home – some of them to people who are “clinically vulnerable.” Still, washing our hands and crossing our fingers – but not touching wood unless its been washed down “more often than usual” – should do the trick.

This phrase is another extraordinary one.

“All staff and students who are attending an education or childcare setting will have access to a test if they display symptoms of coronavirus, and are encouraged to get tested in this scenario.”

It might engender more confidence were they to say; any staff or students displaying symptoms will be tested.

In the case of a confirmed infection in a given site the presumption is that this will only have affected the bubble. The rest of the school will continue to function until more cases start cropping up. This is the opposite of the precautionary principle that we need to deal with and suppress this virus. The desire to keep settings open is being prioritised above the health risk.

Temperature monitoring

Even though other countries are doing this routinely as one way to screen out potential infections, the DFE says “Parents, carers and settings do not need to take children’s temperatures every morning.”

Testing

Its available but its up to you to book it. Not exactly comprehensive or failsafe.

It should be stressed that the NAHT (Primary Heads union) described these guidelines as “not practical” and many school leaders will have a view of these guidelines that is at least as critical as most teachers, TAs and parents. We all need to work together to make sure that when schools reopen the systems and procedures are in place for them not to be vectors of disease AND to be places where sensitive, nurturing learning can take place. These guidelines, and the June1st target date, do not allow either.

The digested read

Suck it and see, but wash your hands first.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reckless

Unlike almost every other country in the world, Boris Johnson’s government wants to partially reopen schools in England on June 1st. The devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and the North of Ireland will not follow suit because, like the education unions and the BMA, they do not think it would be safe to do so. Local authorities across England from Liverpool to Lambeth are also coming out against this move. The National Education Union has described this proposal as “reckless.”
The government cites the example of Denmark; which partially reopened schools on 15th April, without acknowledging that
  • the impact of coronavirus on Denmark has been much lower. 93 deaths per million to date, compared to the UK’s 511. (1) That looks like this.chart (19)
  • There were a relatively manageable 170 new infections and 10 deaths in Denmark on the date schools began to reopen (2) partly because they had closed down earlier in the cycle, whereas in the UK the infection and death rates are still running very high – with 3560 new infections on 15 May and 384 deaths (3). On a per capita basis that works out at 28 new infections per million in Denmark and 54 per million in the UK; 1.66 deaths per million in Denmark and 5.86 per million in the UK. chart (20)
  • The assumption that this will reduce automatically to manageable levels in two weeks time does not take account the impact of the easing of the lockdown which has taken place in the last week.
  • In fact, the infection rate (R) in Denmark initially went up from 0.6 to 0.9 in the two weeks following the reopening of schools, which could be taken as a warning. The other measures in place have since enabled that to reduce; so these would also have to be in place here to get a comparable result.
  • In Denmark there was also complete openness about the science, precautionary projections of potential infection rates – assuming that children spread the virus at the same rate as adults, rather than resting reopening on a hope that they don’t – and an engagement with teachers unions. All of these are what the education unions are asking for in the UK too.
  • The easing of the relatively weak lockdown in force in the UK – which reduced deaths by about half as compared with the continental normal of 60-70% -until last Sunday’s announcement from Boris Johnson that workers “should be encouraged” to return to work has already led to an increase in the infection rate from a range of 0.5 to 0.9 to a range of 0.7 to 1. (4) In a week! When the infection rate gets to 1 and beyond it begins to run out of control again, so the government is playing with fire. Reckless is the word. They say that if it does, they will retighten. Given their tendency to just cross their fingers and whistle and hope, we can’t leave it up to them. The unions and the BMA are right to resist.