‘We are not cannon fodder’: Former teachers turn down plea to help schools cover Covid absences

‘After 30 years in the actual job why would I risk my health for a few extra quid?’ says 62-year-old

Zoe Tidman
Wednesday 22 December 2021 06:46
<p>The government has called on former teachers to sign up to supply agencies to help cover staff shortages</p>

The government has called on former teachers to sign up to supply agencies to help cover staff shortages

Retired teachers have ignored a plea to return to school to help cover Covid staff shortages, saying they did not want to become “cannon fodder”.

The government called on former professionals to help out amid warnings staff absences have been causing school closures and very high levels could lead to remote learning next year.

But some have called the idea “complete lunacy” and “crazy”, telling The Independent they would not be getting involved over concerns for safety.

Others said the pay on offer would not be tempting enough.

“I’m a retired teacher and after 30 years in the actual job why would I risk my health for a few extra quid,” Donna, a 62-year-old from Lancashire who did not want to share her last name, said.

The Covid pandemic has already seen former NHS staff return to work to help the service in its fight against the virus.

On Monday, Nadhim Zahawi urged retired teachers and those who have switched profession to come forward to “join the national mission to protect education”.

Days before, the education secretary said the Department for Education (DfE) would help former staff to sign up for supply agencies to bolster the workforce available to help schools struggling with staff absences.

Jane Stevenson, who left teaching a few years ago, said it was a “crazy idea”.

“I wouldn’t do it,” the 53-year-old from Cornwall said. The former teacher said schools “riddled with Covid need sorting out” instead of being “propped up by older teachers who will also get sick”.

She said she thought “the most important thing is to look after existing staff and children” in order “to make schools safe”.

Helen Leon, who took early retirement this year after catching Covid, said teachers needed investment in filtration systems, masks in classrooms and close contacts of Covid cases to stay out of school.

“How dare Nadhim Zahawi expect retired teachers to put their lives at risk, when he hasn’t looked after the teachers he has got?” the 58-year-old former teacher, who is also from Cornwall, said.

“We are not cannon fodder and our lives are not expendable”.

Helen Leon left teaching earlier this year

Donna, the former teacher from Lancashire, said she had “no intention of becoming cannon fodder next term” by returning to what she called a “Covid-infested workplace”.

According to the latest government data, 109,000 pupils were off school earlier this month due to a positive Covid test, while 91,000 were at home due to fears they had the virus.

It was also estimated 2.4 per cent of teachers were not in school on 9 December due to a Covid-related reason, with most of these absences down to staff having Covid.

Deborah Lawson from Voice Community, a union for education staff, said: “We have already seeing schools and education settings needing to close due to staff absence issues. No significant additional measures have been introduced to protect the health and well-being of education staff or students.”

The assistant general secretary said former teachers may not want to return to the profession as they had “chosen to leave teaching because of stress, high workload and better pay elsewhere”.

“Some supply teachers can also receive less than the average daily rate for their work, which is unfair and must also be addressed.”

A 42-year-old former teacher from Norwich, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Independent she left the profession due to increased scrutiny, “dreadful treatment” by the government and “annual pay cuts in real terms”.

“There has been no attempt to address the retention crisis in the teaching profession and now this,” she said.

The 42-year-old said supply agencies were “very likely to insist” on paying rates below former teachers’ qualification levels - even if they previously held senior management roles.

“It’s an insult quite frankly. And the idea of asking older retired teachers to risk themselves when Covid in schools is rife is downright lunacy.”

Mr Zahawi, the education secretary, said it has been his “absolute priority since day one in the role to do everything in my power to protect education”, which was behind his call for “any teachers no longer in the profession to come forward if they are available to temporarily fill absences in the new year”.

“Although 99. per cent of schools have consistently been open this term, with cases of Omicron increasing we must make sure schools and colleges have the teachers available to remain open for face-to-face education,” he said.

“Anyone who thinks they can help should get the process started now on the Get Into Teaching website, and everyone should get boosted now to help reduce the amount of disruption from the virus in the new year.”

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