|Volume 50 Number 43, December 5, 2020||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
Teachers are having to cope with the often contradictory and idealistic guidelines from the government in a situation where there is a great danger from being infected with the Covid-19 virus, not enough resources to implement necessary safety measures, and yet it is up to them to guarantee the education of the pupils.
Analysis by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) reveals that one in four schools may not be able to meet Covid-related costs despite increased funding from government, and deprived schools will be among the hardest-hit. A report of the NFER showed that for many state schools, the increased costs of measures to try and cope with the pandemic are not matched by school funding.
Government ministers have said they expect schools to meet the costs from their existing budgets, and have repeatedly pointed to plans to increase school spending by £7.1 billion by 2022-23. Despite these rises, NFER identified 1,500 schools that were "particularly at risk of great financial hardship", as they entered the pandemic with either a deficit or small surplus.
The research also found that more deprived schools, which face the biggest challenge in supporting pupils to catch up, stand to see smaller increases under the government's national funding formula (NFF) because they have historically received higher levels. Schools have lost hundreds of millions of pounds from a combination of lost income and increased costs since the pandemic began. Although the government launched an exceptional costs fund, its scope was limited and it only covered the tail end of the last academic year.
"This government has some nerve telling teachers to keep calm and carry on," wrote Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU). She pointed out how ministers have insisted that circuit breakers, rotas and extended holidays were not an option.
Mary Bousted writes: "The teachers, leaders and support staff that I speak to tell me that they feel abandoned. They are exhausted. If their school is in a high Covid area they are coping with significant staff absence as their colleagues isolate. One MAT CEO told me recently that each day 10 per cent of the teaching staff are absent - either because they have Covid or because they have been in close contact with someone infected with it. As staffing budgets are decimated, school leaders abandon 'rarely cover' principles and teachers lose their non-contact time.
"Just working to keep a school Covid-secure adds to the workload. The time taken to supervise staggered start and end times and lunchtimes, to keep pupil bubbles separate, and to supervise hand washing for primary school pupils, builds up.
"Coping with rising levels of poor pupil behaviour adds to the exhaustion as children and young people express, in school, their anxieties about family breakdowns, parental financial worries and their own fears of catching the virus. Then there is the requirement to provide remote learning for pupils who are isolating, on top of a full teaching timetable, using IT platforms that are unfamiliar and on which few have been trained. There is a keenly felt anger at the disingenuousness of a government which promised schools laptops for disadvantaged pupils, only to renege on that promise at 5pm on the Friday before half-term."
Mary Bousted affirms that these pressures are compounded by the belief many education professionals have that their workplace is not safe enough. She says: "These are particularly acute in secondary schools and sixth-form colleges which are packed full of pupils who, SAGE now tells us, can transmit the virus.
"Viral levels in secondary age pupils are rising faster than any other age group; they are now 51 times what they were at the beginning of September, and secondary-aged pupils now have higher viral infection rates than any other age group.
"Uniquely, education staff are working in crowded places, with inadequate ventilation and cleaning, without social distancing, and with mask wearing only in communal areas. These are good conditions for viral transmission - which could explain why attendance rates among secondary school pupils are declining so rapidly. Nationally last week 22 per cent of secondary-aged pupils were absent. This rate will be much higher in areas of high infection.
"So, in addition to hugely excessive and debilitating workload, school staff are scared. They are worried that they will catch Covid and terrified that they will expose their families to the virus."
Despite being told from the very beginning of the crisis that the teachers are the ones whose discussions and solutions must be taken account of, the government has stopped its ears and eyes and continued to impose conditions which bear no relation to reality. It is all very well putting forward "solutions" to the crisis, as the government, not to mention such figures as Tony Blair, have arrogantly done, but if the human and material resources are not there, it adds to the anger and frustration of teachers, education professionals and teaching unions who are left carrying the can. Despite their passionate dedication to teaching and to the wellbeing of the children, teachers are beginning to reach breaking point.
Of course, problems of the teaching profession and the future of education did not begin with the coronavirus pandemic. In many ways, they have simply become exposed and exacerbated by the difficulties of being teachers being placed in the firing line of the pandemic. In addition, concerns now are growing over what is going to happen to pupils taking GCSE and A-level exams. If teachers are working in a school where year 11 and 13 have had to isolate repeatedly, they are worried sick about how they are going to cover the syllabus.
It is becoming ever more imperative that teachers participate in the solution to the Covid crisis in schools and that the education system is invested with the resources to implement solutions. It is simply not acceptable for the government to demand that teachers bear responsibility for implementing guidelines in the present circumstances, circumstances which also are making it ever more difficult for the teachers themselves to discuss and collectivise their experience.
(With files from Schools Week, NEU)