Like many of my colleagues up and down the country, I have seen over the last 48 hours the speculation about returning to school, ramp up quite significantly. Couple this with the ‘bashing’ from prominent people (who should just be quiet and know better) and we’ve not had the greatest week.
I read daily speculation about when we’re going back to school and who is going back to school and this fills me with worry and anxiety for many reasons. Because of this, I needed to get my ramblings onto paper. I warn any reader now this is not an outstanding piece of literacy and I have no doubt there are many errors. I am also sure there will be people who disagree with my thoughts and believe it is a far too simplistic view of the situation we are currently in. I also wish to stress these are indeed ramblings but for me, I needed to vent my concerns and worries. Here goes then….
Infection and Infecting
Since schools were closed and the UK was put into a ‘lockdown’ we have seen daily, MPs and the Prime Minister stand in Downing Street and say the same thing: Stay At Home, Protect The NHS, Save Lives. People continue to die each day and the number of people infected is higher than the day we closed schools (expected I know as testing has increased). The frequent TV information broadcasts tell us “anyone can carry it, anyone can catch it” but not children? We’re now being told they don’t think they carry Covid-19 – they crucial word is think. They have not proven children do not carry and infect so why are we, children and families being put a risk? Nevertheless, the press seem to want to send back to school thousands of germ carriers: children!
Anyone in education knows children are the ultimate germ carriers! Each year teachers and educators go down with dreaded return to work ‘lurgy’, we get the stomach bugs that go round and why? Children have poor hygiene skills. We can all think of the one child who always has the wax candles, who always sniffs and always uses their sleeves to wipe their noses. Don’t forget, there’s always a teacher’s trousers/skirt to wipe that bogey away when your sat on the carpet listening to you too! How many times are we coughed and sneezed on each day? But don’t worry colleagues…. the children probably don’t carry Covid-19 so you’ll be alright!
Have you tried to tell 4 years olds to stay 2 metres apart and to keep away from you? The older they get the better they may be but then you’ll have the “I’m OK, it won’t happen to me” attitude from some. I have 30 Years 6s and my classroom is an average sized classroom; could I keep 30 of them 2 metres apart front, back and either side – not a chance! If I go on the school field I may achieve this – just better hope it doesn’t rain! My colleague in Year 5 has an even smaller classroom so there is no chance. However, it’s not just the social distancing of our pupils but us. Do we have to stay 2 metres away from our pupils? How am I supposed to do my job of sitting with them and teaching them, helping them and more importantly comforting them when the anxiety of our situation hits them? Being up close to pupils is our daily routine, or daily ‘norm’, indeed there are many children who like to hug their teachers and TAs (non educators may well be cringing now and screaming child protection – really, you’ve no idea about our job!) My current class aren’t a particularly ‘huggy’ class, my last class oh yes! Reception class – I guarantee it! What about the child that falls and grazes their knee/arm etc. How is first aid to be administered? Is this when they’ll allow us PPE (and that opens up a whole new debate)? What about lunchtimes and playtimes? There is talk about children needing to return to see their friends – but they’re not supposed to play with them!
So I’ve considered some of the in-school issues what happens at the start/end of the day? We now have parents to think about. Parents who love to congregate in their huddles on the playground – we all know the ones! How many schools will have space to social distance so many parents? How many schools will have a designated entrance and exit that will allow this social distancing? I know at my school this will take a considerable amount of thought as our parents do not stand on the playground to bring/collect the children. This brings me nicely to my next concern:
There is much talk that we will have to stagger start times and possibly rota children in school. Be in no doubt, children returning to school is not solely for their education and welfare, it is to kick start our economy because we are glorified babysitters! Oh yes we provide daycare so parents can go to work – whether we like it or not, agree or disagree it is true to a certain extent. Let’s consider a few scenarios:
- Family A have 3 children in Years 1, 4 and 6. What happens if these children are staggered at different times and on different days? When they are not at school who looks after these children?
- Family B have parents/a parent who work 8-5pm. Questions: who brings them to school? Grandparents are probably still out the question. Wrap around care? I’m guessing wrap around care may not re-start yet.
- Family C work shifts and have no other childcare, their child is only in school each afternoon or twice a week. Again, who looks after their child when they should be at school?
- Family D: One parent is a teacher, the other is not. The teacher has to be in school each day but at a different school. On the days Family C’s child is not in school, what happens to the child? Which parent does not work? This is my scenario. My husband is back at work after being furloughed, he has a limited number of days he can take as ‘welfare’ after this there is no pay. He is also a shift worker – I can guarantee they will not be flexible because of the industry he is in and the way they have already tried to establish social distancing. What about me? Do I tell my Headteacher I cannot come into work and help in what I know will be an extremely challenging situation or do I just leave my colleagues to it?
If parents do not go to work there is no pay for them. The Government has made it clear children are the key to kick-starting the economy, however businesses will not work at full capacity or will be disrupted as parents have to look after their children. I know this is obvious but I wonder how much it has been considered?
So what will a day look like in schools? What will the education look like? If we are teaching a limited number of children on a rota I assume we are teaching the same lessons a few times a week? Ultimately education and learning will be stunted in some way. We will not be able to get through the curriculum. Indeed, this is not possible as we will need to go back and ‘pick up’ where we left off. Will all schools do this? Will there be choice for schools to ‘do their own thing’? What about the children not in school? I am sure some parents will decide not to send their child to school and I understand that – I have read EduTeachers already state this. So for the children not in school do we continue to provide an education for them too? Will we be expected to plan two curriculums? How and when will we monitor and feedback any online provision (oh hang on, we’re all crap and not doing that so no worries there!) My day currently consists of home schooling my own child for a few hours then going online to see the work my class is doing, reading it, feeding back on it. Engaging with them. Replying to parent messages. Is this to be done every evening alongside the marking of work in class? Has this even been considered?
My husband started work again last week, his company have put in strict guidelines for social distancing: he is on a shift pattern with only 2 other men in their area so they are 2 metres apart; they must wear gloves and masks; they follow a one-way system around the premises. These are strict measures for a company that does not deal with the general public. Will we as teachers be expected or even allowed to wear gloves and a mask? My gut feeling is it will be considered frightening to the children – particularly younger children – who are used to seeing our familiar smiles. Again, that’s OK, they don’t think children carry Covid-19. We have seen on the news the discussions around frontline nurses and Doctors not having enough/appropriate PPE. Are we to assume there is now an increased supply for us all to use?
Day to Day
Currently I am washing and spraying anti-bac on anything that comes through the post. I read that it probably isn’t passed on surfaces but are they really sure? So at school we mark books, books that have been coughed and sneezed on. We pick up things the children use all the time – we open the same doors, touch surfaces etc – we touch our faces without even knowing. I appreciate we cannot live in a bubble forever and that at some point we need to return to some kind of ‘normality’ but it seems the press are the ones pushing for this. Other countries have eased lockdowns and we are now seeing that second inevitable spike. Italy (who we were told countless times are 2/3 weeks in front of us) last week announced the closure of schools until September. Today, they began to lift restrictions but the schools still remain closed. Will I be anti-bac spraying my classroom – even the children. Maybe I should just be drinking the stuff, I hear this is OK to do?!
Over the last 7 weeks, our family have followed the lockdown guidance. My son has seen nobody except my husband and I. He has seen his grandparents from the end of a garden or via video calling. We’ve done all this to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and to prevent any of us becoming ill. My son has worries about dying. When all this began, we had to reassure him frequently that we’d be OK, we weren’t mixing with people so we probably would not become ill. Now I am faced with the prospect of putting myself – and him – in a daily situation where either of us could be exposed to an illness. Am I being selfish – absolutely. I also know that every day, up and down the country many people have been exposing themselves in public places such as shops and of course hospitals, care homes and home care and for this I am most, most grateful. Don’t we owe it to these people who we’ve clapped for each Thursday to keep doing what we’re doing to reduce the spread and rate of infection?
I have said it before and I’ll see it again: I respect Headteachers (well most of them, there are a few exceptions out there!) I do not envy the tasks they’ve had to do in the last 7 weeks and I do not envy the task ahead of them. My own Headteacher is hugely concerned for us all and himself and rightly so. His other worry is lack of clear guidance and the possibility the Government will say “It is up to schools how they manage this.” As I said, “It’s like a snow day decision but a thousand times worse!” So good luck Heads, Deputies, Heads of Departments and teachers across the UK. Just remember you’ve done an amazing job and will continue to do an amazing job in the coming weeks/months.
Speculation, rumours, headlines – and we’ve got another 6 days of this until Boris stands up on Sunday and lays out his roadmap. In the meantime where is Gavin Williamson? Where are the reassurances or support from the DfE? Why has he not stood up to calm the waters, speak out against the ones who berate our profession. Why has he not supported us?
So there we are, rant over. Feelings vented. Please do not assume I never want to return to work. I have a job to do and I want to do my job. However I want the children in my care to be safe, to be secure and to be well. I want my colleagues – my friends – to be safe, to be secure and to be well. More importantly, I want my own child to be safe, to be secure and to be well and for me, this is the most important thing in my life.