Exclusive: 'Roulette wheel' for Covid hotspot teachers

Hull is the UK's Covid hotspot with infections three times the average – teachers there say they are risking their lives
18th November 2020, 4:15pm


Exclusive: 'Roulette wheel' for Covid hotspot teachers

Coronavirus: What's It Like Being A Teacher In A School In The Country's Covid Hot Spot?

"I feel lucky to have a job in this pandemic but I don't want to die for it. It's like a roulette wheel."

Teachers working in secondary schools in the UK's coronavirus hotspot have told Tes how they feel they are risking their lives on a "daily basis".

This is Hull, where local leaders are warning that coronavirus cases have increased at a "frankly astonishing and terrifying rate".

By yesterday cases had reached 780.3 per 100,000 people, more than triple the UK average of 256.4 and far higher than the next highest hotspot - Oldham with 599.3 cases per 100,000. 

Local health officials are now asking for the power to close schools in the city, where more than a quarter of pupils are now reported absent because of Covid. But what about the teachers?

They have told Tes that they feel "scared" and "vulnerable", as well as "demoralised and unappreciated".  

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One secondary teacher, in her 50s, who is overweight and has asthma, said: "I'm in school and I feel totally pushed under the bus. It feels scary.

"We know it's growing around us by the very fact that bubbles are being sent home and more staff are absent.

Coronavirus: Teachers 'blamed for spreading Covid'

"But we just have to keep going in and waiting for somebody to get it and it doesn't feel like we can do anything about it, except, to my mind, we should be at home. We shouldn't be bringing the kids into school."

Hull secondary teachers have told Tes of:

  • Having to deep clean their own desks.
  • Secrecy when staff go off with Covid.
  • How they were blamed for the virus spreading.
  • "Terrible" pupil behaviour. 
  • The" bubble group" system being a "nonsense".

"We're told that it's us teachers talking to each other that's causing the cross-contamination rather than us getting it from the kids," said one teacher, who - like all those who spoke to Tes - wished to remain anonymous.

"So basically [senior leaders] are trying to say we're the ones who are at fault if we get it because we've gone too close to other teachers,"

She added: "I feel the staff are being put at risk on a daily basis. Kids are spreading it - whether they're bringing it from home or taking it back home, they're just spreading it.

"And they just can't help but get close to people. You'll see one person sticking their finger up their nose right in front of you and you think, 'Right, OK, where's that going now?'"

Another teacher, at a different Hull secondary school, also in her 50s, said there was a secrecy about which staff were off with Covid because senior leaders didn't want to "spread panic" - but she said the close-knit staff were finding out anyway.

She said one teacher who had been off for more than a month with Covid had been accused of being off for too long by senior teachers, yet staff close to her knew it was a severe case.

'Demoralised and not appreciated'

"We feel very demoralised and not appreciated - not just by senior staff but by parents and pupils as well," the teacher added.

"They don't understand how it feels to be risking your life. I feel lucky to have a job in this pandemic but I don't want to die for it. It's like a roulette wheel.

"My husband, who is also in a vulnerable age group and has high blood pressure, says, 'Are you just waiting for it to be your turn, then it'll be my turn?'"

The teacher said bubbles were "a nonsense" and that different year group bubbles were sharing toilets and stairwells.

She said: "We're having lots of cases where pupils are positive but only the pupils immediately surrounding them in the classroom are being told to isolate at home - so the year group bubble situation isn't being used as it was first intended.

"Only about eight pupils are being kept off school if there's a positive case."

The teacher said the irony was that, in order to protect the bubbles, teachers themselves were being put at more risk by having to move around classrooms instead of being able to stay in their own room - and that was causing "much anxiety", partly because there wasn't enough time to deep clean the desk at the start of every lesson.

DIY deep cleans

She said: "Ordinarily it wouldn't bother me but touching something that someone else has just touched in these circumstances is very repulsive.

"Now I'm required to log on to the computer and use the very same desk without it being sanitised, only by myself with a quick virus wipe, and use all the board pens and the interactive whiteboard.

"You can't set up properly when you're hurriedly having to do a switchover. I'm expected to settle the class, deep clean my desk, and log in as well as getting the books given out and put the board display on and set up the starter activity.

"And that's aside from the fact you're wearing a visor and mask, and some teachers are not leaving windows open so when you go into a classroom it can be very stuffy, so I have to go around and open the windows near where the pupils are sitting.

"And whilst you're doing that, someone is throwing their books on the floor. There is a feeling of not being properly prepared."

Behaviour 'has taken a nose dive'

She added: "It feels like I'm being put at risk for a nonsense bubble. And as soon as the kids get out of school, they get on public transport and mix with siblings in other year groups."

The same teacher also said standards in behaviour had "taken a nose dive" because so many teachers were off and the school was relying on supply teachers.

"Behaviour is just terrible," she said. "It never used to be. But when you've got lots of key players off among the staff, you're going to have unsettled pupils.

"If you've got a child with five supply teachers out of six lessons and they're just being given something to fill in the time to keep them there, it's not going to be great. You're not going to have subject specialists - it's just in-fill, and kids will only put up with so much of that and then they're going to kick off.

"A supply teacher left a class and just walked out, it was that bad. They walked off site. That's unheard of. Normally they'd come into the staff room and say, 'I'd love to have another day here. This is amazing.' That's how it used to be but now they're walking out."

Demand for temporary staff in the city had led to pay rates going up, Tes has been told. One supply teacher offered work in Hull said the agency "offered me £160 a day and I said no, so they went up to £175".

Asked on BBC Radio Humberside whether the city's schools should close, the city's director of public health, Julia Weldon, said: "We've been able to keep as many schools open as possible and everyone has done a fantastic job.

"We're now seeing that really strained because of the number of teachers who are self-isolating or infected."

The Department for Education says its regional teams are in regular contact with Hull City Council and the Hull Learning Partnership

A DfE spokesperson said: "The Government made it a national priority to open all nurseries, schools, colleges and universities to all pupils and students because of the clear benefits to children's and young people's education and wellbeing.

"The Chief and Deputy Chief Medical Officers have been clear the balance of evidence is firmly in favour of schools remaining open, and have highlighted the damage caused by not being in education to children's learning, development and mental health."

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