Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 50 Number 25, July 4, 2020 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

The Rights of Teachers and Pupils

Interview with a primary school teacher

Could you tell me something about your work as a primary school teacher prior to the Covid-19 pandemic?

I work in a multicultural, inner city school. There is a high level of deprivation, with a significant number of pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and those for whom English is an additional language (EAL). The needs of our pupils are complex and it goes without saying that the teaching staff face a massive challenge in trying to get most of our pupils to reach age-related expectations. I am proud to be part of a team that goes above and beyond to support our pupils and families. We are led by an exceptional headteacher who has a very good understanding of the school community and who puts the pupils' educational, social and emotional well-being at the heart of all decisions. To work in this type of school you have to have a big heart and tough skin. Teachers face extremely challenging behaviour most days and are stretched to meet the vast academic range in the classroom.

How has the pandemic affected your work?

When the threat of Covid-19 was imminent, it was frightening as I have an underlying health condition and avoiding the coughs, sneezes and maybe not so thoroughly washed hands of young children was impossible. I felt it was my duty to "Keep Calm and Carry On" so that the pupils in my care had reassurance and a sense of comfort. As the flood of ever-changing government updates was pouring in, it became apparent that I had to jump ship and stay home as I was a member of the vulnerable group. This caused me great anguish as I had an overwhelming sense of guilt that I was letting my colleagues and the pupils down. It was fortunate that the open dialogue with the head teacher and her continued support helped to alleviate some of the strain.

What problems have you faced in the new situation and how have these been addressed?

The next hurdle was then upon me. How could I support my team to ensure we provided high quality home learning opportunities? This was before the government launched any online provision. But in true teacher style, I liaised with other colleagues and we very quickly responded with home learning grids. As the uncertainty continued and the pupils had now missed months of school, the stakes were raised. The government put out flashy adverts on how teachers were using Microsoft Teams to educate pupils remotely. In fact, we were given some brief virtual training and then expected to meet those standards. With an ongoing duty of care to the students and working from home, I tried tirelessly to master the software. Ongoing discussions with colleagues led me to realise I was not alone. We were all very adept in our computing skills but the brief 45 minutes training session was not enough. With a sense of failure, this was discussed with the headteacher and a compromise was reached. So long as the pupils had online tutorials, and could see and hear their class teacher, we were no longer required to use the Microsoft program that the government had so heavily invested in.

What are your views on the government's call to reopen primary schools?

The flurry of government updates continues and we are informed that individuals from minority backgrounds are at a higher risk of Covid-19 mortality. A report was commissioned and one might have expected the findings from the report would be published with recommendations on how employers could best support and protect these individuals, but NO! Again, my head teacher in the absence of government guidance was left to manage the risk for this group. She made the courageous and remarkable decision to remove the minority workforce from the frontline until further government advice was given.

The end of term is closely upon us and I think it is imperative that children get back to school. At this point we need clear, practical and informative guidance on how best to keep our pupils, staff and wider community safe. Again, with my wishful thinking, perhaps this may happen before the end of July so we have time to put the plans into action for September 2020.

Thank you


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