Teachers ‘scared’ and ‘frustrated’ as schools are told to reopen

One teacher says constant changes and lack of clarity have left the profession, parents and students with no confidence in government

Bethany Dawson
Sunday 03 January 2021 17:27
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Teachers have expressed fears over schools reopening amid an unprecedented rise in Covid cases, as Boris Johnson insisted premises are safe to open.

Teaching staff told The Independent they felt the prime minister had a “complete disregard” for the safety of children and their families and that they were “scared” about the prospect of schools reopening.

Chris, a senior school leader in the southwest – currently in tier 3 – who declined to give their surname, said: “I love my job, want the best for the children I teach and I want schools to be open, serving their local communities.

“However, if schools continue to be fully open with no social distancing, no masks and poorly ventilated classrooms, then the virus – and the more transmittable variant – will spread through the children and be taken home to children’s families and to staff members’ families.

“The national priority has to be saving lives and keeping the NHS running.”

Sage, the independent scientific advisory board for emergencies, has told the government to close schools as a mechanism to lower the rate of infections, yet the prime minister insists in many areas they should open from 4 January.

As the daily case number hit 57,000 over the weekend, concerns have grown about the reopening of schools and colleges. However, Mr Johnson has still urged families to send their children to school when they open.

Vik, a secondary school teacher in Manchester, told The Independent: “The government created the condition that allowed the cases to rise.

“Tomorrow,  primary schools with classes of 30 are set to open alongside a new variant that affects children more so than the initial strain of the virus.

“There has been no risk assessment to take this into account. We have no PPE, and are in packed classrooms with no ventilation.

“This risks the lives of students, of our teachers and the community. The NHS is at breaking point. The workplace is so unsafe that they’re unable to enter it. This must bring a pause for reflection. We know the impact on our young people, but students and the communities lives have to come first.”

Sarah, a teaching assistant based in Southampton, said she “adores [her] job", but is "so scared”.

“I feel so frustrated because as a primary school TA working in early years, social distancing is nonexistent in my classroom and I just don’t feel safe,” she told The Independent.

“I don't think we should go back at all, we have vulnerable teachers at the school, and teachers who have vulnerable families, and it’s like the government hasn’t even thought about that. I’m so confused by the government.”

The government’s education guidelines have changed rapidly, from announcing all schools will open, to saying that some primary schools should not open in London, to announcing that some secondary schools should have a delayed reopening.

Another teacher told The Independent:  “These constant changes, lack of clarity over guidance, update after update, exam fiasco changes have left the profession, parents and students with practical no confidence in the secretary of state’s ability to lead the department.”

Edmund Dean, a teacher in an adult learning centre, told The Independent: “It's a mess.”

On the Sage advice that schools are unsafe to reopen, Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “Sage has told the government that they need to close schools to contain coronavirus and the government has decided to ignore their advice. 

"It is also clear from the Sage documents that school pupils and school staff are infecting each other, and that school age children have the highest rates of infection.

“On this basis, we do not believe that it is safe for the community, pupils or school staff for schools and colleges to reopen on Monday.

“We believe that schools and colleges should remain closed until mid-January at the earliest so that the government can make an informed decision on the safety of reopening schools as Sage advice.”

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