On Reopening Schools - A teachers opinion.
I don’t usually seek to ‘be a teacher’ online, rather I focus on comedy, allotmenting and occasionally politics, but right now it feels important to say something now that teachers are being demonised in the press and online over concerns about the re-opening of schools. Here are a few points.
1. Schools haven’t closed. Most schools have been open for the children of key-workers and their most vulnerable pupils for the entire lockdown. Teachers, Teaching Assistants and other staff have already been taking a risk by going into school to work with these pupils. Many schools have been sending food to the homes of families who would normally get free-school-meals, as well as other forms of aid to help in this difficult time. The idea that teachers have been sat around doing nothing is simply not true of most of them (but kind of is for me).
2. Socially distancing and ‘good hygiene’ are incredibly difficult, if not impossible in school. There are countless surfaces and objects that are touched by hundreds of pupils a day, there is simply not enough time to clean all of them thoroughly enough and often enough to prevent cross contamination. In every primary school class, there is at least one child who can’t stop putting things in their mouth, another who can’t keep their finger out of their nose and usually a dozen that don’t cover their mouths when they cough. Keeping teenagers 2m apart is virtually impossible – honestly, try it, keeping teenagers from touching each other, in one form or another, is one of the great challenges of secondary school.
3. It is a myth that children and teenagers do not get covid-19. Children and teenagers have died of coronavirus in this country. Most will suffer no symptoms, this is true, but that does not been they cannot transmit it to others. With schools open, there is a big risk that it could be quickly transmitted around a school and on to hundreds of families before anyone realises. The sooner we open schools the sooner we risk turning them into invisible incubators for the disease. One headteacher in Kent, has said that he would rather have dozens of pupils repeat school years for falling behind than lose a single child to the virus.
4. Despite the risks and unlike for other keyworkers, the Department of Education is blocking PPE from being used in schools. Not only will this expose staff to the risks but also create the potential for teachers and other staff, who may deal with hundreds of pupils a day, to become ‘super-spreaders’ of the virus. The importance of PPE has been highlighted by experts for its ability to reduce the spread of the virus. Every industry is looking to use it, so why not schools? Because if we have PPE it looks like we’re admitting that it’s not safe to open schools yet. It would be a PR disaster for the DfE if people see classrooms full of pupils wearing masks when they could have been at home, learning remotely.
5. A lot of people are talking about how “school closures” are increasing educational disadvantage across the class divide. There is truth in that, despite the work a lot of educators are presently doing to counteract this. However, coronavirus has also been shown to be far worse for people from poorer backgrounds – any sort of resurgence of the outbreak in incubator schools will disproportionately affect the disadvantaged and vulnerable. As I have already said, better to have pupils repeat years or catch up in other ways than to lose a single child to the virus. Even if they don’t catch up, I would also rather see pupils not meet target grades than see any die or suffer the premature loss of a loved one. We are far better off extending the closures and being patient than we are rushing into anything.
6. This brings me to my final point: the real reason schools are “re-opening” has nothing to do with overcoming educational disadvantage or healing the class divide. The real reason that schools are “re-opening” is to provide a National Babysitting Service to allow people to go back to potentially unsafe working environments to get the economy back up and running. This ploy by the government is nothing more than an attempt to put money before lives, as they have consistently done for the past decade – only more extreme. Though the government claim to be taking the advice of scientists, this policy can only be the result of lobbying by business leaders who are concerned about the loss in profits that arises from lengthy closures. Science has a far greater tendency to err on the side of caution when it comes to human lives than money does.