Why are teachers still being told to go into school?

Many teachers are still being asked to come into school – often simply to deliver a remote lesson, says Yvonne Williams
6th January 2021, 1:07pm
Yvonne Williams


Why are teachers still being told to go into school?

Coronavirus School Closures: Why Are Teachers Being Asked To Go Into School To Deliver Online Learning?

The third lockdown has thrown the community back into virtual learning. It's not a step that teachers welcome wholeheartedly, not least because we genuinely worry about vulnerable children.

We are more than happy to make ourselves available to look after these pupils, as well as those whose parents are key workers. But it is very much the case that classrooms are no longer full and not all staff are needed, at least not as consistently as they were before. And yet many teachers are still required to come into school every day - often simply to deliver remote learning from an empty classroom.

Sensible heads will provide rotas for staff to work with vulnerable children and those whose parents are key workers, and then allow everyone else to work from home. If children aren't in the building, why should staff be? 

Across the country non-teachers are again working from home where they can, in line with official guidance. Some offices haven't been occupied since March. Today's TV coverage shows empty cities and countryside. Surely teachers should also be working away from school premises, unless there are specific reasons for them to be on-site? 

Coronavirus: Not all teachers need to be in school

For too long, there has been a presenteeism culture in many schools, driven in part by perceptions from non-teachers that the (mythical) 9am to 3pm day is an easy ride. Sir Michael Wilshaw, former Ofsted chief inspector, has been known to fulminate against teachers who are out of school as soon as the bell rings. Somehow the public at large needs to be reassured that working hours are being worked. 

So, despite teachers' real working hours extending well into the evening, a number of school leaders compel them to stay on-site until 5pm, to keep "normal" office hours. This requirement may allow closer surveillance of apparent effort, but it achieves little more than resentment. Perhaps it's time to break this culture, at the same time that we break Covid transmission.

There can be few good reasons - if any - for requiring teachers to make the fruitless daily commute to teach in empty classrooms. Perhaps if the wi-fi signal at home is too weak to support teaching through platforms such as Teams or Google Classroom, then staff would need to use the school's resources. (Long term, wouldn't it be great to see reliable broadband across the whole country?)

Some teachers may prefer the atmosphere in school, and want to be in an environment where others are in the same situation in the classroom next door. The emotional connection can be especially important for those who live alone. But that isn't the case for everyone.

Whenever a classroom is occupied, even by just one person, it will need to be cleaned. Teachers will have to exercise constant vigilance about sanitising surfaces, which is stressful. Is it really worth incurring these extra costs in terms of electricity, antibacterial products and cleaning

The risk of spreading the virus

Insistence on staff remaining on-site also risks spreading the virus. For teachers able to travel to school on foot or by car, there is little further chance of contracting Covid. But for those who are reliant on public transport, there is another layer of contacts on the journey there and back. 

No one who has taught online can deny that planning takes so much longer than for in-person lessons. So does assessment - certainly on the scale that modern schools demand. Why include an unnecessary and time-consuming two-way journey to the toll of teacher hours? The time spent at home instead of commuting could be put to much better use. 

It's surely better for teachers' mental health to be in their own homes. They will not suffer so much anxiety about catching the disease or transmitting it to others in their bubbles. Rarely do we give any consideration to teachers who have been desperately worried about the safety and welfare of vulnerable members of their families. For them, any chance to keep outside contact to a minimum would be more than welcome.

Besides - from a purely pragmatic point of view - we simply don't have enough teachers to start placing them at any greater risk than need be. Schools need to be protecting their human resources.

Presenteeism and excessive surveillance have never really belonged in schools. The benefits of allowing teachers to broadcast lessons from home far outweigh any other considerations. 

It's going to be a long haul until half-term, so let's make the next month and a half more tolerable for everyone.

Yvonne Williams has spent nearly 34 years in the classroom, and 22 years as head of English. She has contributed chapters on workload and wellbeing to Mentoring English Teachers in the Secondary School, edited by Debbie Hickman (Routledge) 

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