Dear madam: letters to the editor 13/11/20

In this week's postbag of letters to the editor, Tes readers discuss teacher safety amid Covid, and geography GCSEs
13th November 2020, 1:43pm


Dear madam: letters to the editor 13/11/20
Tes Letters To The Editor: The Coronavirus Risk Faced By Teachers, & The Implications Of Changes To Geography Gcse

I've never been so frightened

I've been a teacher of post-16 students since 2004. This is the most stressed and frightened I have ever been. I feel voiceless. I feel like a lamb to the slaughter. I feel like no one cares about us.

I teach in a sixth-form college in the North Midlands. There are over 1,700 students on roll, an increase of almost 15 per cent on last year's enrolment. It's very busy: classrooms are full with 24 young adults in a room, sat in rows, shoulder to shoulder. The room doesn't have any windows that open and the room is air-conditioned.

We're asked by our government not to wear masks in classrooms but to wear them in corridors and in social spaces. A lot of students comply but there are at least 25 per cent who don't or pull their mask up in front of you and pull it back down when they move on.

In social spaces they are gathered around tables in groups of 12, not wearing their masks, with the pretence of eating. In that canteen there are around 200 other young people doing the same.

We're told by our managers that we are "Covid-secure", but that's far from the truth. There have now been three separate cases in the classes that I teach and my line manager takes on the role of track and trace by getting our lesson plans and working out which students have been within two metres and asking those students to isolate.

Yesterday, a member of staff was concerned that they'd been within two metres and the management actually had the audacity to get out the metre sticks! I didn't realise that the virus particles do not travel to 2.10m and I didn't realise that they were so desperate to keep staff in without personal protective equipment that they won't even take a staff member's word.

I am angry because the college is following guidance from government and public health. I don't even feel human, I feel like a cog in a wheel, a commodity. They don't care about our wellbeing, our anxiety. We're now seen by our own managers, the government and the public as shirkers. There's secrecy, too: staff members who have Covid are expressly asked not to tell other staff, so we find out through gossip. Secrecy has no place in the fight for public health and against Covid.

I am becoming very bitter. Medical staff and care professionals at least have PPE and are encouraged to wear it. If I go to the vet's, I have to wait outside and talk to the professional through a window. If I go to a McDonald's drive-through, the staff wear face coverings. If I stand in front of my class of 24 17-year-olds for three hours and one tests positive, they get out a metre stick to see if I'm a close contact.

Morale is very low; we are seen as nothing more than a babysitting service to keep the economy going. Teachers are not valued in our society and are being sacrificed on the altar of capitalism. Interestingly, the government has not produced data for teaching deaths since May; in May, the majority of teaching staff weren't on the front line with no PPE. Teachers are dying and it appears no one cares. 

Name and address supplied

GCSE geography changes create more work

The Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) recognises the clear uncertainties facing teachers, regulators and students as schools move towards the 2021 summer exams. However, Ofqual's newly published GCSE geography guidelines take us further into terra incognita with respect to the place of geographical fieldwork ("GCSEs 2021: New geography requirements 'absurd'," Tes, 9 November).

The RGS-IBG has previously highlighted how the requirements for GCSE fieldwork could have - as a "Covid-19 one-off" - been relocated on to a school's grounds or in close proximity of a school. This would have retained this practical element of a student's course and its connection with fieldwork-based questions in the summer exams. 

Ofqual's conditions disapply the need for students to undertake fieldwork and collect their own primary data, while requiring awarding organisations to comply with geography's assessment objectives and allocate 15 per cent of final marks to fieldwork data and contexts. 

The intention of the new conditions was to free up teaching time and reduce pressure on students. However, these conditions may create additional work for teachers and students as they prepare for the 2021 exams that will be assessing students' understanding of "unfamiliar" fieldwork; that is, with approaches, settings and skills that they have not experienced.

Looking beyond the current exam cycle, we need to ensure that any new normal doesn't further limit students' geographical experiences and that the first-hand fieldwork is fully retained as a central part of geography GCSEs in the future. 

Steve Brace
Head of education and outdoor learning, Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)

An ode to a summer's day

I was in the first cohort to sit key stage 3 in the school year 1992-93. We had an anthology of poetry to study. In it was one of the most beautiful poems I have ever heard. It was something about a summer's day and involved hearing the sound of a lawnmower. I think I wrote it down but in the intervening years that copy has been lost and I cannot find it online. Does anyone recognise the poem I am referring to or can anyone tell me where I can get a copy of the anthology?

Karen Silcox



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