Saturday 16th May: government rewriting reality, changing the narrative

@annelongfield 'stop squabbling and get back to work"
@GavinWilliamson Unions need to sit down and talk to government, I want a discussion

These create a false narrative, I'll explain why...
Let's go back to the start of the crisis.
Originally the government had no intention of closing schools, when herd immunity was THE strategy one advisor on TV suggested closing schools could be counter productive as it would slow the spread.
Talking to reps around country I asked about staff absence, once 1 person went off with symptoms absence quickly escalated.
NEU were one of the first to call for closures weeks before lockdown, at the time we were made out to be over reacting, in hindsight we were spot on
A week before lockdown the government were still saying they weren't planning on schools to close,they did no planning at all for closures. This became blindingly clear when school closures were announced.
Lockdown statement said keyworkers only, then an hour later it changed
School were to be closed except for keyworkers. The next question heads asked was, what was the definition of a keyworker?
Government didnt have a list ready, we will get it to you soon, this was Friday everything would have to be in place Dunday afternoon for Monday start
Waiting for government to publish the list, heads got to work surveying parents, what about EHCP, households with 1 keyworker etc,there were a lot of variables, Saturday came and no keyworker list,heads ended up doing it all alone.
Government finally released the list so close to Monday that if heads had waited there would have been no chance for heads to have prepared in time. It was the first of many shambles.
But it wasnt the only immediate issue the government has done no planning for. Safety.
How to manage social distancing in schools? What other safety measures should be in place? Who is liable if it goes wrong? This wasnt planned for.NEU worked with leaders losing lots of sleep to draw up joint guidance with NAHT and ASCL, this was adopted by most schools/LAs
Government did put out some basic lines, not enough, there was a meeting with the DfE where we went through the joint union guidence and it was agreed that it was sound and measured, its proven a strong document for keeping schools relatively safe during partial closures
In my area the threat of Section 44 has been used alongside the guidence to ensure safety measures in a school were improved within 24 hours, but it's another example of the gaps in government planning being left to others to fill.
How long were we expecting schools to be closed? Well exams were cancelled and at the start many commentators were saying they expected schools probably wouldnt be open until September. Shielding letters were also sent out for 3 months.
What else hadn't been planned for?
Exam results: unions went to government to work it out, no plans,poor original suggestions, we worked together to put together something more reasonable.
NQTs&Trainees? No planning either.
Free school meals: despite the current messaging of concern for the vulnerable and disadvantaged the government hadnt considered this group that's particularly large due to a decade of austerity.
Heads had to press government on this (see @chrisdysonHT for a great example)
Government provided little response at first,the heada started creating their own voucher system.Finally the government pulled its fingers out picking a provider of their choice and centralising a voucher system. Heads were told to abandon the hard work they'd done
Government's provider choice has been a disaster. Trying to order vouchers for pupils each day has been likened to trying to order tickets to a highly popular music festival, wake up early and keep hitting a button to find the webpage crashes, their own systems were better
There's been many more issues with the vouchers besides heads just being able to get them including a limited number of shops they could first be used in, to the vouchers not working when disadvantaged families have tried to pay with them at a till (imagine the humiliation)
Remote learning: this is a big one,so with all this concern about children missing out on education youd think making sure there were standards for remote learning would be a key priority for the government? Nope nothing at first,schools left to make it up as they go along
Because schools were given no warning they had a weekend to create a new online curriculum with no support from government.
The NEUs guidence for online learning has been misinterpreted (deliberately) in the media who say we are telling teachers to not do it. This is a lie
The NEU urged caution regarding live video calls with students due to potential safeguarding issues and also protecting teachers from a range of concerns. We supported online learning creating guidence to fill the gap left by gov and created a microsite for parents.
Apologies I said Friday for lockdown declared but it was Thursday, we spent that day handing out all our laptops and tablets to disadvantaged pupils, but there wasnt enough. Had the gov planned how to support these pupils? No, nothing was in place. Heads unsupported again.
The Laptop fiasco: how long have we been in lockdown? For all that talk of the disadvantaged the gov still hasnt sorted out laptops.
Once again pressure from heads and unions got the sluggish gov to promisedlaptops and modems for student that needed it. Heads drew up lists
Government set itself a deadline and then started moving it backwards. Heads sent their lists and then recieved messages regarding what they would be getting.
One head needed around 30 laptops and modems,got told they would get 11 laptops and 7 modems, repeated across England
Heads were venting their fuery on Twitter 'so how do I decide which disadvantaged students get access to remote learning when they are all in need' were they supposed to start ranking students by deprivation?
Last I heard DfE said it would be sorted by June, priorities?
Having left heads and unions to fill in many gaps gov had a few jobs to do to support the disadvantaged and they havent managed to do it, could just have set money aside and let heads order what was needed then schools in poorer areas would have benefited from more resources.
Right onto Reopening Schools:first of all its not reopening schools,its increasing student numbers,im sick of seeing people online and on radio talking about educators on furlough in their hot tubs drinking prosecco.(Heard this several times,trolls arent known for creativity)
The moment schools went to partial closure we knew they would have to reopen.
What conditions would have to be met? How would it be managed? Which students? How many? How would safety in schools be managed? What was the gov thinking what evidence and modelling was it doing?
After the debarkle and lack of government planning there were concerns the same could happen with increasing numbers.
The NEU was also collecting evidence from studies around the world to inform risk reduction, compilations are on my Twitter account. We wrote to the gov.
As with when we wrote to government before lockdown asking for their modelling around why they were saying schools wouldnt close we recieved no response to our evidence based questions. This was in first few weeks of lockdown and government was refusing to work with us
2 weeks into lockdown mid peak sources within government started briefing papers that schools could return after the easter holidays, 4 weeks after lockdown started. This has been a reoccurring theme, gov refuses to tell unions and head anything while briefing friendly media
I have a thread titled 8th April where I predicted schools would become a political battle,they are the key to reversing a lockdown the government never wanted to implement.I saw loose science being created, and solid studies being taken out of context to manufacture consent
While an evidence base was appearing that although more likely to be asymptomatic children were as likely to be infected as adults and shed the same viral load,certain dubious commentators like Toby Young portrayed themselves as experts filling the airwaves with pseudo facts
These alternate facts were amplified by troll and sockpuppet accounts and picked up by the governments loyal press and certain MPs.
"No child under 10 has infected an adult" which has been constantly parroted this week is proven to be false but is accepted as fact by many
Seeing this narrative establish in the press, seeping into the public and picked up by government now briefing 11th May to papers the NEU wrote evidence based questions to the gov regarding their science and modelling supplying studies and asking gov to share its plans.
For a third time the government ignored our questions and refused to respond.
Are you starting to see why Williamson's statement that hes willing to talk to the unions and that we should engage has angered us so much?
Michael Gove said three times during a press briefing that government was talking to unions, Johnson on his first day back promised to include all stakeholders in planning, for a couple of weeks 'talking to unions' was a regular phrase. It really is some great double speak.
Oh there have been talks, some about exams for next year and pausing Ofsted have Ofsted productive and genuine,but when it comes to how and when student numbers will be increased and the government has been evasive and uncooperative,not sharing plans or genuine collaboration.
(Sorry for Ofsted typo above getting tired)
While the government continued to refuse to share its modelling of risk and planning, Downing street spent more time talking to and briefing their loyal papers who floated possible phase structures and 1st of June date
So while unions faced a brick wall the government continued to say it would give us warning and time to plan and told the press they were 'talking' to us. Increasingly worried by the June date in the papers, Kevin Courtney the NEU JGS had a conference call with Williamson.
This was after Johnson had already recorded his statement, Williamson reassures Kevin that no date had been set, papers were briefed to say government were going to be cautious a date for schools was unlikely. Then that night the DfE this statement
'No date has been set' 'We will continue to work with the sector' It even reference the NEU letter with hundreds of thousands of signatures.
NEU saw this as a sign of hope that their requests for modelling and collaborative planning would finally be met.
That Friday papers began attacking unions,but with particular focus on the NEU, advice that live calling pupils could create issues avoided by other forms of online learning already misrepresented became 'Union prepares to sabotage return to school'
It wasnt unexpected ⬇️
Then Sunday statement came and it wasnt just setting a clear day that we had been told wouldnt happen that shocked us, union thinking had been increasing numbers by focusing on disadvantaged across year groups or older students more likely to social distance.
Not learning from closure mistakes the guidence wasnt released alongside the statement. Initially on Sunday it seemed it was reception and year 1 first, year 6 shortly afterwards with yrs 10 and 12 'before summer'
Monday some guidence came out, year 6 would be back 1st June
Infant schools only have reception to yr2, how is two thirds of students plus keyworker&certain vulnerable pupils a 'cautious approach'. We had warned social distancing&staffing would be an issue so the guidence scrapped the need for social distancing and set class size to 15
Mention of other countries increasing student numbers (with lower infections than UK) do have social distancing and lower numbers per class in their guidence. Government wasnt being as cautious as these other countries further ahead on the curve for many reasons
Not following other countries and still without a test, trace and isolate system in place the approach seemed reckless. Government called the roadmap a sketch,NEU wrote to gov asking for the modelling and evidence underpinning these plans and to collaboratively redraft them
As with the other three letters sent,we recieved no response! With the international research and education comparisons we had gathered the government guidance wasnt cautious and risked turned schools into major hubs of transmission, spreading into communities and risking NHS
NEU always stated school closures are a public health measure to cut transmission rates and this is backed by the emerging science including the UEA report funded by the government via Public Health England which found school closures to be the most effective way to reduce RO
With government refusing to share science or engage in a more cautious redraft the NEU was worries about schools being bounced into a reckless unsafe increase in numbers with asymptomatic children that could create large infection clusters in communities before being noticed
Guidence was sent to NEU reps to pause local planning, this was a holding letter the government guidence placed legal liability for anything that went wrong directly onto schools and their heads, as the gov kept telling press they would work with unions we expected a redraft
Press sold this as 'NEU refuses to engage with government' and the headline became fact in the minds of many, its glaringly untrue, as I've shown we've been constantly asking the government to involve us in planning, they are refusing to engage with us. Talk but not listening
How are schools supposed to plan when the guidence is still changing without consultation?
Tuesday it changed without heads being informed, FE and Sixth forms must now open on 1st June and yr 10 and 12 must be going in, all primary students must also have a month in school..
Before the summer holidays, so that's yrs 2,3,4 and 5 in by mid June. The emotional blackmail by press and government that this is about the disadvantaged seems hollow considering the laptop fiasco and free school meal issues are still ongoing. Schools started planning rotas
The guidence then changed again the other day that rotas to manage student numbers and reduce risk of transmission should not be used. Other measures that increase risk like breakfast clubs were reintroduced,the guidence becomes more reckless with everyday,time is running out
Now heads have 2 weeks to rewrite their plans again and have to constantly check the guidence incase government changes it yet again without telling us. Despite press reporting NEU and other unions continued to call for meaningful meetings. We finally got one with advisors
After initially confirming, Williamson then personally pulled out of the meeting (because his door is always opened?)before the meeting he said in parliament school openings and guidence had been approved by the scientists,later the same day DfE science advisors in a select..
said they hadn't been consultated over dates or guidence, but once outside the select committee which has serious sanctions for telling untruths the advisor released a letter than said the exact opposite to them. Also in the select committee he used the phrase 'some studies'
and 'low confidence' in regards to the science underpinning the governments plans. These same phrases were used in the union meeting with the science advisors, and in recent press briefings, the international studies the NEU has referenced have not been addressed in any way.
They promised to publish their guidence to government on schools, the discussion notes and the studies that underpinned this. So far only the guidence has been released more 'some studies show children are less likely to carry infection' and mention of levels of 'confidence'.
Next day the ONS data showed that children are as likely to carry infection as adults,studies in other countries show asymptomatic children shed the same viral load as adults.These findings havent been addressed by government and they still quote 'some studies' in briefings
Government continued to tell public they are willing to talk, papers label unions; NEU in particular, as refusing to engage, meanwhile in reality the government refused to reconsider which year groups, pupil numbers and a chance to redraft safety guidance collaboratively.
Government has demanded confidentiality at all stages, now I need to make it clear at this point that this is my personal account and that this thread isnt an official NEU response, but I still need to be careful because I recieved a message from a whistleblower in DfE
This will be denied but the shambolic thrown together guidence and comments by DfE science advisers and choice of year groups and reopening nurses gives it credence.
The DfE were bounced into increasing student numbers, they weren't expecting it and weren't prepared.
The Treasury pushed them into this using its seniority, to maximise those getting back to work to save money and stimulate the economy. There had already previously been pressure for an even earlier return,(11th of May quoted in press a month ago?) There is much confusion ..
and nervousness around this policy being arrived at in a rushed manner, the supporting data of infections and deaths is said to be nowhere near the governments original criteria (another thing NEU has asked for and been refused) they are keeping their fingers crossed the data
will significantly improve. Remember the greatest concern around schools is them becoming major sites of transmission triggering a larger second wave. This would take us back to square one force another lockdown causing even more damage to the economy and students education
Which is why the unions are still calling for the full modelling and underpinning studies to show the government has taken this into account. This interview by a SAGE data analyst in Saturdays Telegraph doesnt fill me with confidence.
I've decided to do this now because not just is the government still refusing to reconsider collaborative redrafting the plans and guidance, there is a nasty disengenous orchestrated attack on the unions, NEU in particular.'Let them be heroes' the Mail claimed we would force..
members to stay out of schools. NEU constitution has a conscience clause, all action is voluntary, members have the freedom to ignore advice without consequence. We have this stance because it's what the members told us to do, surveys of 100s of thousands of members have ..
well over 90% approval ratings and educators have been joining in the thousands for weeks because they they feel we represent them. Nearly 2k additional members joined after Johnsons Sunday speech with around 500k members we do speak for the majority, although media seems ..
great at amplifying the voices of those members who do disagree or have allowed themselves to be mislead by media misrepresentations. These are 'unprecedented' times and we're in constant flux, misunderstanding and disagreements are going to happen,there are no easy decisions
It also doesnt help when various dodgy doggedly pro government/vote leave social media accounts set up around election times and October to pressure around Brexit suddenly become angry union members despite no sign of an interest in education before hand, some had wiped their
timelines. As my twitter account gains more attention I have attracted more of these accounts, ultra Brexit support and increasing student numbers had no logical reason for such an overlap on a venn diagram, theres also lots of new accounts from April and a May repeating ..
fake science like children dont infect adults,there had been no infections in schools since partial closures etc
Even with limited numbers quite a few schools have had outbreaks and deaths which have been ignored due to being inconvenient for the government's economic plans
The BMA coming out in full support of the NEUs concerns and a similar statement by Doctors in Unite on Sunday night has caused them a headache, but some press and trolls are now describing the BMA as militant! Its about ruling by dictators and crushing dissenting voices
(*dictat not dictators I'm not going that far but spell check thought otherwise)
It's really nasty, government has been urging councils to get more keyworker children into school, they changed the guidence again without informing heads and unions. This is different to their
guidence to the rest of the workforce. It means a keyworkers household where the other parent doesnt work can still send their children into school. I believe this is so they can say theres lot of students now in school so what's thr issue with even more?
Confidentiality and also protecting individuals means details must be limited, and it's still a risk but some leaders have reported being threatened by some councils if they dont start increasing student numbers regardless of safety concerns. Been advised not to raise this
but frankly nows the time to lift the lid. The press have launched into personal attacks against my friends and colleagues, continuing to say it its us refusing to engage for ideological and political purposes which is twisting reality by 180.
When papers whip up hate 'all the NEU cares about is school holidays' 'they are damaging our children' these false emotive words dont just damage constructive debate they have real world consequences. At lunch time on the say the Daily Mail ran the 'Let them be heroes'
headline, describing the NEU as unrepresentative of members and a danger to children I personally recieved an eery anonymous death threat via a withheld phone number from what sounded like an older woman. So yeah my patience is running very thin.
The NEUs stance has not been to keep schools shut indefinitely until a vaccine as media like to portray this as a binary choice between almost immediately increasing student numbers and waiting a year. Preventing a second more damaging peak is my primary concern, but we do
feel a lot more can be done to reduce risk and wonder if the current infection rate and RO in many areas means June is just too soon. We are still asking to see the actual science and modelling, and then to collaboratively redraft improved safety guidence that more resembles
the measures in other countries that those calling for the June date are constantly referencing.
We accept there will always be risks for now but we arent willing to accept unnecessary risks that could be mitigated, it's not political it's a public health issue about a second
peak. If the government had a solid reliable strategy of test, trace and isolate up and running, if infections are lower we would have less reservations, putting multisystem inflammatory syndrome to one side for a moment if children are low risk, majority of students and
parents do want to go back, we have to remember this is a public health measure and the impact of RO is the most important factor. If this can be shown and that schools can be safe (for a given value of safe) the NEU would love to come back to support students and families
Afteral we have spent a decade campaigning for more funding, the need to address the SEND crisis that has emerged over the past decade, our concerns for a high stakes system that has seen a surge in student and staff mental health issues, the impact of austerity on the most..
vulnerable and disadvantaged. We have a proven track record of raising these issues and when we have we were attacked as being political by same press and commentators ideological wedded to the government who are now claiming to be attacking us on behalf of the disadvantaged
while intentionally misrepresenting us, relying on alternative facts they havent checked the validity of, ignoring growing evidence to the contrary and printing plain old hatchet jobs against good honest people I've known for years. Its interesting in the personal attacks
against the GS and other officers they chose to miss out Robin our Vice President, I guess a well respected, incredibly measured and thoughtful head teacher of the one the countries top performing grammar schools doesnt really fit the picture of looney lefty militants that
they are trying to paint.
So finally I come to Saturdays and the start of this writing.
@annelongfield said both sides needed to stop squabbling, engage with each other and get students back into school by 1st of June. Despite seeming to sound a sensible broker in the middle
it makes the assumption that the governments decisions for 1st June are reasonable, well grounded in science no one has seen, and not reckless in any way. It also misrepresents the NEU as refusing to engage with government, ignoring out repeated press releases, statements on
air and the 19 page report of evidence based questions to the government detailing the evidence behind them that the government refused to respond to.
We are still waiting for the scientific discussions and studies behind the governments thinking that we were promised, how
can we issue advice to members of we dont even know the risks the government is willing for other people to take?
Unions are still asking for collaborative planning to redraft the guidence and the government still hasnt set up a meaningful consultation, as the headteachers
union the NAHT, not known for militancy has said, the ball is in the governments court. We desperately want to engage meaningfully to reassure worried members, parents, and to know we arent rushing into tipping the country back into a preventable devastating second peak.
So when @GavinWilliamson says his door is always open, and hes always been willing to meaningful talk that's news to me. The government will seek to reassure us with words but it's currently not willing to make any changes, in my opinion that isnt genuine talks it's a handy
line for the press to use on the public that the government is trying to be cooperative while its the unions refusing to engage for political and ideological reasons. They are treating the issue of safety in schools as a PR exercise rather than the public health issue the NEU
and more sensible governments around the world know it to be.
Will the government release the science its following? Will it address the findings of international studies that schools are major hubs of transmission?
Will it sit down with all unions for real constructive talks
where they are willing to make changes?
Or will they carry on regardless?
If they do just remember that if they and their loyal press and commentators tell you it's the unions fault for refusing to engage that they're being massively dishonest and are playing PR and politics
We want to work with the government to protect communities, but that requires the government to level with us on the risks, and we appreciate the difficult circumstances families are in.

This is a personal private response and not officially endorsed.
2 appendix follow
Appendix 1

Joint union response to the government, followed by virologists, public health experts etc all voicing their concerns that the current plans risk a second peak and links to lots of research
Appendix 2

Manufacturing consent for increasing student numbers before it's probably wise too.
A prediction from over a month ago on how we would end up with what the press is trying to turn into a tribal political battle
Now in a more convenient blog format that can be more easily shared ⬇️
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