If you want the experience of not being listened to, work in education. The lockdown brought that into sharp focus for those of us lucky enough to work in education. The good point of working in education? We got paid. The rest? Well, let’s go through some of it. 

Firstly, “schools are closed” or “schools need to re-open as soon as possible”. No. Schools and colleges were not closed. Vulnerable pupils were supported throughout. 

Poverty, crumbling services after a decade of austerity, drug and alcohol addiction, mental and physical health issues, chaotic lifestyles, lack of CAMHS* and social work support, parenting issues in some cases – reinforcing combinations of different factors – means that for many of our pupils, school is a haven of safety and security and may provide the only meal of the day (dreadful though they often are) and the only people who actually listen to them. 

But here’s the thing, supporting small groups of vulnerable children with social distancing and proper hygiene is itself near-impossible. We know that, because we did it. And the idea that it’s going to work with all students? Does anyone actually believe that? Schools are having to designate whole year groups as ‘a bubble’. So do you think that anywhere between 200 and 400 children in one infection pool is in any way preventing the spread of anything? 

And however well a school is doing in school hours, the minute the pupils leave the door, the bubbles dissolve, children touch, hug, and fight each other down the road, travel on over-crowded buses all the way back home to infect grandparents. 

Then notice when Labour or Conservative talk about children being safe, they talk as if there are no adults who work in schools – what about the teachers, the TAs, the office staff, the cleaners? Don’t they count? Aren’t children part of the community?

Some of the suggested plans, like in the 50-page document that the government sent out, are themselves simply unworkable. If you are going to have pupils in bubbles, 2 or even 1 metre apart, with staggered arrival, departure and break times, you not only have to completely re-visit how secondary schools operate (how can a ‘bubble’ separate to do GCSE options and then come back together again? Is anyone aware how noisy a school break is?) but you are also have to suddenly double the number of staff and build twice the number of classrooms. 

No, it’s not going to happen. Even to ‘deep clean’ – the term that’s blithely thrown around – needs increased numbers of cleaning staff and equipment, training and more time to access the building. Where is the staff recruitment and extra funding and guidance and training? There is none. 

As well as supporting vulnerable pupils in person, teachers have been doing their best to switch to an online method of supporting and teaching students. At this precise moment, my school is planning for the delivery of: 100% face-to-face; or a half-in / half-out plan; or fully-online. Even at this late stage we don’t yet know which will be required, but we have to plan for the worst, and most in education expect schools to contribute to a second wave of infection, possibly bigger than the first.

You may have noticed the exams debacle that has affected so many pupils up and down the country. The exam boards (Ofqual) thought long and hard, came up with the available options: to conduct the exams socially distanced (perfectly possible, running an exam is the only part of school life that is socially distanced, and yes, would have probably involved extra papers and slots, dropping some subjects and other adaptations); to rely on teacher-assessment; or to run an algorithm that counters the impact of grade inflation and prioritises the institution’s record over the individual student’s record. 

They recommended the first two. The government chose the last… until Scotland saw the impact on their Highers (A Levels), and the whole plan fell apart. Ofqual and the teaching unions were perfectly clear
about the consequences. The government ignored them. 

The government thanked health service workers by refusing them a pay rise. They are about to thank education by asking us to do the impossible. I have made sure my will is up to date, ready for the new school term. 

*Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services

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