Use judgement this Christmas – unless you're a teacher

Ministers want the public to use its judgement on Covid risk at Christmas – but won't trust teachers, says Kester Brewin
17th December 2020, 12:14pm
Kester Brewin

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Use judgement this Christmas – unless you're a teacher

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/use-judgement-christmas-unless-youre-teacher
Coronavirus: The Government Wants The Public To Use Its Judgement On Covid Risk This Christmas - But It Has Repeatedly Refused To Trust Teachers' Judgement, Says Kester Brewin

As my own school finally wound to a close after the most brutal term I've experienced in more than 20 years in the profession, I found myself listening to the radio. As has quite often happened in this most bizarre of years, I had to wait a few minutes to work out whether I was hearing an actual bulletin or outlandish satire.

In this particular instance, it turned out that I was listening to the government minister who had drawn the short Cabinet straw of being asked to defend the policy of relaxing Covid guidance for a few days over Christmas. 

A group of senior public health experts had criticised the government for - again - being slow to change tack when the case numbers were suggesting a serious gybe might be called for.

Coronavirus: This Christmas, use your own judgement

Now, being no expert in public health or virology, it is not my place to suggest whether the government is right or wrong to avoid "cancelling Christmas". 

What irked me was hearing a minister of state using some pretty fancy verbal ballet to suggest that, though the government was outlining upper limits of what was permissible, it was expecting the Great British Public (for that is what we are in these situations) to "use their own judgement" and do something far less.

My radio sometimes needs a four-inch layer of bubble-wrap. Wasn't this the day after this same government had threatened headteachers in Greenwich with legal action for - let me check my notes - using their judgement and suggesting that, because of exponential rises in cases locally, schools should move to online learning for the remainder of term?

Wasn't this in the very same year that the government bent over backwards to avoid having to rely on teachers - forgive the refrain, but this is kind of like a pantomime - using their judgement to award grades in public examinations?

Staff who have been forced to remain in school may now judge that, with Covid rates what they are, they will now have no choice but to be extra-cautious over the Christmas break. Then there will be those who will in the next day or so be required to self-isolate because of identified close contact, and will thus be forced to spend half their holiday excluded from any relaxed measures.

Hasty transfer of responsibility - and blame

It is simply unacceptable to announce proudly that routine testing will be done in schools from January, when people in education have been crying out for this since September. Especially when the lack of it until now means a heavy price being paid by many students and staff this Christmas.

It is also utterly disingenuous of this government to cheer on personal judgement as a guiding principle when it has, over and over again, shown that it does not trust experienced professionals in education to make sound judgements - whether that be on the safety of those in schools or on student progress.

Anyone who has spent any time in a classroom knows that allowing children to use their judgement is about getting the right balance of showing trust in them and ensuring that they know that they are being given responsibility - and thus accountability, too.

What worries me about a government with such a poor track record of trusting teachers is that this call to use our judgement over Christmas is less about a serious expression of trust, and more about a hasty transfer of responsibility and blame. This way, when numbers are grim in January, it will be our fault, not theirs, and our responsibility, too. 

But what every teacher also knows is this: that when students are asked to use their judgement, it is we, as the adults in the room, who still have to be responsible, still have to put boundaries around behaviour to keep people safe.

Johnson's government would do well to remember this. It is time that it stepped up and took the difficult decisions seriously, rather than waiting - as we so tragically saw with public examinations this summer - for pressure to become unbearable and for people to get hurt.

Kester Brewin has taught mathematics across a wide variety of schools for the past 20 years. He tweets as @kesterbrewin

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