Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, West Midlands

Covid-Reflections blog – Why the anxiety?  Schools, Teacher Voice and Easing Lockdown

With just 2 weeks to go before schools start to re-open its doors to the nation’s children, there is a warranted apprehension in the air.

The Media, Social media and family facetimes have all been discussing and, in some cases, sharing concern about the relaxing of lockdown and how one of the most vulnerable groups of our society are being invited back into it without any guarantees, clarity or sufficient planning time.

After a number of Facebook ‘conversations’ defending the profession and reading some of the tabloid headlines about teachers, all whilst witnessing the Governments stubborn defence of it is policy; it is certainly clear that Teachers are being put in the naughty corner for asking far too many questions at an inconvenient time.

For the sake of  balancing the outlook on this debate, It is obvious to all of us that leading at a time of a pandemic of unknown impact is not a walk in a park and that our present Government has an insurmountable task on their hands but somehow it seems that there are competing priorities at work which is leaving society and in relation to this blog, the teaching profession feeling ill at ease.

Now, I am not aware of a single leader in Education who is reluctant to have children back in school.

It would be far easier to manage than having teachers trying to ensure that all vulnerable children are being safeguarded from near and far, that online teaching materials have been uploaded and that every member of their school community is well and managing this everchanging circumstance.   In fact, teachers would like to be waiting with open arms (oh wait not possible – social distancing) for the pupils that they teach, support and care for each day.

However, the actual reality is that many school leaders and teachers alike are losing sleep over the Governments road map out of lockdown and the inevitable emphasis it places on them to fulfil it.

So why the Anxiety?

Why are unions asking the hard questions? Why are our Educational leaders losing sleep and feeling uncertain about the viability of the plan? Well in my opinion the answer lays in a lack of clarity, scientific or otherwise, A lack of the Governments real understanding of the issues facing schools and quite frankly the lack of the teaching professions voice in the process. All of which is fuelling this strong desire to collectively respond to a directive that feels intuitively wrong for our country’s children.

So, what are the concerns? 

  • The science is hidden in plain view –

Even though we are aware of the elusive ‘R’ rate which hovers closely to the crucial target of below 1 and the regional differences that are apparent, it would seem that our Governments blanket approach to schools re-opening is seen as appropriate.

Although the rest of UK is probably 3 -4 weeks behind the capital the approach to the lockdown is a one size fits all which goes against the very nature of any conscientious teacher and leader in Education.

This reluctance to apply policy to the regional experience regarding the impact of Covid and the apparent science that is developing regarding a rare and unknown response to Covid for our children, is fuelling this very necessary spate of uncertainty sweeping through our child centred profession.

  • Practicalities and Resources –

The fact that schools were not properly consulted with, has resulted in the questionable decision regarding reception and year 1 children returning to school alongside their year 6 peers.  And this is not to discount the challenge to our secondary colleagues but dependent on environment, social distancing may prove a little less challenging with teenagers.

In contrast, our 4, 5- and 6-year olds are being asked to understand and apply social distancing, when they are the very pupils that will need extra physical guidance to ensure their ability to socially distance safely and effectively.

They are the very pupils that will require nurturing support when they return back to school after this very impacting change in life and circumstances.  The very pupils who could misunderstand this process and find it more distressing as a result.

Let’s us not forget the practicalities of spreading out across the school and having different teachers, possibly from different year groups, who will willingly step into the role, but will also fuel the underlying uncertainty that change can bring to the youngest members of our society.

  • Planning for the new normal

There is no doubt that Education has to change. Not only does the physical environment need to be changed per the guidance but in the opinion of many so does the curriculum. In order to support the recovery of our nation, a curriculum which aids this recovery is necessary and will take time to develop and apply to support the varying experiences of our school communities.  (Barry Carpenter, writing in SSAT 2020)

  • The entwined relationship between Education and the Economy

It Is also clear that the important issue of economy is playing its part in this decision to open schools.   No one would deny its importance but in the hierarchy of humanity it must surely take second place to well-being.

For obvious reasons, this is a very controversial view but a view that must be mentioned all the same.

If the current insistence to open schools before a time that is scientifically and socially viable is in fact due to the economy, it could be argued that we are doing the country a disservice, democracy a disservice and most importantly our children a disservice.

So, What is the solution?

There are a number of possible policy approaches to this, such as staggered opening across the Nation, much like what is being asked of our schools.   A change in year groups to ease the anxiety for parents with the youngest pupils or a recognition that the public is just not clear on the science and so this may need to be fully shared.

Or maybe if the controversial view regarding the economy holds any truth; then this weary Headteacher  on my LinkedIn feed, may just have the answer to the competing priority of public health and the economy.  *permission was granted to use this quote.

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