A Havering teacher who is also a parent and school governor, who wishes to remain anonymous today shares with the Havering Daily his views on the re-opening of schools in June.
Firstly let me introduce myself and why I feel I am qualified enough to write a piece on this topic – I feel this is important as there are a lot of commentators and journalists who are throwing opinions about without a great deal of understanding. This doesn’t mean to say that I am right, just that I feel my perspectives add weight to my arguments. First and foremost – I am a parent of a nursery aged child – one that can return on June 1st, if schools reopen. Secondly, I am a teacher at an independent school. I teach year 5, have taught year 6, and have over 10 years of experience in schools. Thirdly, I am a school governor at a state primary school. So I look at the decision to open schools with 3 different hats on and they all lead me to the same conclusion – don’t.
It is also worth clarifying, as it isn’t said enough, that there is every possibility that schools won’t reopen on June 1st despite the media hype. The words Johnson said in his address were “at the earliest” and “we may be in a position” but all are dependent on the R rate being below 1. So let’s assume they will be opening for some children on June 1st
Are the schools safe? Gove (more on him later) has said that schools are safe to reopen. If this is the case, why are schools going back with only 3 or 4 year groups and in smaller numbers and socially distanced? It’s been widely reported that the social distancing measures are only “advisory” and that younger children won’t adhere to these measures anyway – anyone who has worked with, or lived with, a child of that age will attest to that. If the government can guarantee schools were safe, all year groups would be going back. The argument behind year 6 going back is a rather odd one too. It is for their “transition” year, and whilst I agree it’s an incredibly important year – just think how you would feel if you were in the “other” class to the one led by your normal class teacher? None of the normal end of year activities will be taking place either, thus making it a rather depressing end to some of your best school years.
The fact is, they don’t know schools are safe and with the ambiguity in their guidance, they are leaving schools wide open to criticism, and potentially far more damaging consequences. Further down the line we might know for certain that schools are safe but we should see the reports and “the science” before making that informed decision.
Is the reopening of schools purely for the benefit of the pupils? Many commentators and politicians have started to talk about “the poorest in society,” and I agree, the poorest in society are hit hardest by the school closures. But please also remember that Gove (and his advisor, Dominic Cummings) were part of a government who reduced school funding, cut support staff numbers and cut 5000 Sure Start centres. I won’t go into the damage the changes they did to staff wellbeing and mental health with their changes, but it’s a bleak picture that has left us with a nationwide shortage of teachers.
There are also further issues with this argument. Children from the poorest parts of our society are often from inner city areas and will travel to school via bus, thus adding more strain on our public transport system and increasing their exposure, and their parents, to Covid-19. Potentially also a further issue soon that with the Government bailout conditions for TFL that free travel for children will be stopped. Furthemore, terms of the first lockdown guidance advised that vulnerable children were targeted and given space in schools. Assuming the most vulnerable are often the most disengaged with schools (or their parents), and with no penalties in place for children missing school, is this going to get them back to school? I fear not.
In my mind, this is all about economics and politics, rather than for the benefit of those most in need: that faux care is being bandied around now and will be forgotten about next time head teachers ask for more money, support or staff for the disadvantaged children. Some schools have also had to lay off additional support staff on short term contracts as a money saving exercise during this period, and these staff would often be in place to support the aforementioned children.
In all of this, staff are then expected to travel to work (sometimes on public transport – particularly in inner city areas), stay socially distanced from colleagues (and therefore parents too) and to find a way to educate children at school and those whose parents will have chosen to keep them home – which looks like it will be many of them if social media and local community boards are anything to go by.
So, will I be sending my child back? Not if I don’t have to. Will I go into work? Yes, if I have to, but scared about the consequences – before the lockdown we were losing staff daily to isolation and symptoms. As a governor am I confident the information we have had is good enough to reopen schools? No, it leaves head teachers in a precarious position, who will ultimately shoulder the blame for any consequences.