Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 50 Number 38, October 10, 2020 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Letter to the Editor

In Conditions of the Pandemic, Teachers' Concern for Education Shines Through

Since the outset of the lockdown and its commensurate shutdown of all schools throughout England, Wales, Scotland and the North of Ireland, the debate has raged as to whether this was the correct decision. The government has essentially maintained the line that there has to be a balance maintained between safeguarding the well-being of the people and the need to protect the economy, as though the two concepts are in opposition to each other.

As a teacher, I feel at the sharp end of this debate. The government, having decided that all schools should go back and that all children throughout England should return to school from September 1, simply declared that this would happen and that schools would have to put in place whatever measures are necessary to ensure that their declaration was carried out. However, it has meant that teachers, support staff and all those who enable schools to run, were not only just told they must go back to work but have, en masse, been thrust into a most exhausting and stressful environment and situation. We are only six weeks into the first term of this academic year and already many teachers and education workers are wondering how long they can work in these conditions.

The National Education Union, along with all the education unions, has been at pains to say that there cannot be business as usual in the schools. Just to have children able to come into school has necessitated so much extra work, rewriting of schemes of work, learning to use often new and involved technology, sorting out problems of laptops or IT support, and a raft of measures to ensure that we, as teachers, provide the environment to maintain the necessary social distancing and hand sanitising, and to provide the children in our care what they need in order to do the work required of them.

Indeed, most schools speak the rhetoric of understanding. Our own management reiterates the need for teachers to take care of their own well-being and health, and not to feel pressured to deliver the same curriculums we were doing before the pandemic.

However, almost in the same breath we are being told, for instance, that the current Years 11 and 13 must sit their delayed end-of-year exams and must follow the schedule as set out by the government, that schemes of work must be followed as before, and it has recently been announced that, as of October 22, schools will have a legal duty to provide remote education for state-funded, school-age children unable to attend school due to coronavirus (Covid-19). This means that teachers will be required by law to provide so-called "blended learning" where they must concurrently teach the children in front of them in the classroom and the children at home via the online systems of Teams and Zoom and other forms. Having struggled with this myself this term, I know just how exhausting and discombobulating this can be! So many teachers are saying it is the final straw for them.

The whole language being used is of the necessity of "catching up" and ensuring that the programme as determined by the education department must be adhered to whatever the conditions. It the same pernicious rolling out of "deliverology". In other words, it flies in the face of what all the education unions have been warning, and it is in fact "business as usual" as far as the government is concerned.

But this is a craziness!

The reality on the ground is that there is no normalcy. Our school has been very assiduous in trying to implement the suggested Year group and Class group bubbles. Already, whole Year groups, as well as smaller groups and individuals, have been sent home and been told to isolate. Staff, too, have had to self-isolate. The principle followed by the school is, as the government instructed, that if any person tests positive for the virus, then they and all their contacts are sent home. However, we do not offer any testing at the school. Some schools have managed to acquire their own testing units; however, these cost in the region of £38,000 to buy. And even then, there is an additional cost per test. So needless to say, most schools cannot afford to buy such equipment.

As a consequence, many staff are shielding because they are worried about contracting the virus, especially those who are pregnant or vulnerable for various reasons. The lack of testing and the onus on staff and pupils to pay for their own tests, along with the difficulty of getting a test and the length of time it takes for test results to be known, have also impacted on the working conditions in schools. It has caused real strain on departments already very stressed trying to cover for those staff who are absent. In a nutshell, teaching in these conditions is just exhausting.

The greatest irony and frustration for us as educationalists is that our main joy in life is Education. I am sure I speak for most teachers when I say that it has been a joy to be back teaching the children, and that I recognise the importance for every child to be back at school and in the school environment. We all recognise the importance of the social structure and the playing and being with friends, of the ensemble of human relations that sees the development of the young human being through education; of being and nurturing cultured people, and the next generation of society. As teachers, as educationalists, we recognise perhaps more than most the necessity of guaranteeing young people a right to an education. However, the way in which we are being forced to deliver this education is not only putting lives at risk, but it is not actually giving the education that people want and need.

It is not right, nor fair, nor reasonable to ask teachers and support staff and schools to have to work as many hours and provide whatever the government says is necessary. There is and has been no coherence to the decision making and it feels very much as though the conditions within schools are spiralling out of control. Instead of the government's enacting legislation to force teachers to do more and more for less, the teachers should themselves become the decision-makers! Education is not simply a set of informations that teachers must deliver at all costs. Education is a precious thing and is as much about the social relations and, indeed, about the ensemble of human relations, as it is about giving rise to the next generation of leaders and workers in our society. It cannot be treated as a giant hamster wheel that enslaves everyone and, within these strained conditions of Covid-19, has us all running faster and faster to deliver what amounts to an edifice that does nobody any good.

Teachers should be the authority in education and should have the backing and resources to exercise this authority.

Signed (Teacher and trade union rep)


Link to Full Issue of Workers' Weekly

RCPB(ML) Home Page

Workers' Weekly Online Archive