Are teachers just collateral damage?

The government appears to have accepted the risk of some schools still admitting lots of pupils in lockdown, says Michael Tidd
11th January 2021, 12:18pm
Michael Tidd

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Are teachers just collateral damage?

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/are-teachers-just-collateral-damage
Coronavirus & Schools: Are Teachers Just Collateral Damage, Asks Headteacher Michael Tidd

It's easy to say that a government department is "out of touch" or that the "mandarins in their ivory towers" have lost sight of reality. But never has it been more true than of late. 

The events of the past few weeks have only served to highlight how little connection there is between the workings of the Department for Education and those on the ground in schools.

It's always been a tricky relationship, whoever has been in Number 10, and whatever the direction of travel. Even when Labour was increasing school funding, there was plenty to complain about, from the literacy hour to APP. 

But what we've witnessed recently isn't the frustration of a profession wishing it could be left alone. No, it's the sheer contempt of a government department that appears to have long since forgotten its purpose, and long since abandoned any sense of working with the profession to achieve it. 

Coronavirus: Teachers putting their lives on the line

For months, school leaders have been making it clear that more families need more laptops, and yet still none arrive. For weeks, school leaders - along with public health experts and local authorities - had been making it clear that cases were rising too fast and schools should be closed, only for those cries to be met with threats of legal action

Throughout, schools and their staff have repeated that we need time to make preparations, not last-minute U-turns to respond to media pressure. Yet, at every turn, the department and the government choose to prioritise media spin and bravado over the education and wellbeing of pupils and staff.

The other big difference is that, this time, teachers are literally putting themselves and their families at greater risk of death, to serve their communities - and yet the department treats them with such disdain. 

That couldn't have been made any clearer by the updated guidance produced last week. Along with yet more increased demands for remote learning (notably focused on quantity rather than quality of content), there was the admission that, in the effort to balance educational provision against lost lives, the department had found where it chose to strike the balance.

Increasing the risk of spreading the virus

In its guidance for schools, it makes clear that there must be no limit on the number of pupils accepted into key worker provision. Now, this might be all well and good if we knew that schools were truly safe - but then, if that were true, we'd have no reason to close schools at all. 

The stark reality is that having schools open increases the risk of spreading the virus, and thereby the likelihood of its reaching someone who might die from it. 

While overall the rules might have helped to reduce social contacts, in those schools where pupil numbers are still high, or in communities where many more members of society fall into the vulnerable groups, the government appears willing to accept a certain amount of collateral damage.

I don't look back fondly on sub-levels or the 2016 key stage 2 reading test, but this is different. This time the relationship has completely broken down, and it's hard to see a way back.

Michael Tidd is headteacher at East Preston Junior School in West Sussex. He tweets @MichaelT1979

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