Exclusive: 64% of teachers worry about return to school

Tes survey of 6K teachers and other school staff uncovers huge levels of anxiety about return to classroom, with 15% 'frightened'

Catherine Lough and Amy Gibbons

coronavirus school worry

Nearly two-thirds of school staff have expressed worry or fear about their personal safety when schools re-open today.

Tes survey of nearly 6,000 school staff in England found that almost half of respondents – 49 per cent – said they were "worried" about the impact school reopening would have on their own safety, while a further 15 per cent said they were "frightened".

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The proportions were the same when the views of the 4,512 teachers in England who responded were taken alone.

Some staff who have been shielding for medical reasons expressed their dismay over the decision to reopen.

'Life-threatening' risk of return to the classroom

"As someone who is 'clinically extremely vulnerable' I feel like a return to the classroom as things stand is a life-threatening risk," one respondent said.

"I have an underlying heart condition and I am frightened of contracting Covid at school, particularly as I work as a teacher and a cover supervisor – potentially in contact with 5 different bubbles each day," another teacher commented.

Others spoke of their fears as members of black and ethnic minority groups, who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

"As a teacher from a BAME background that lives with a person that was on the shielding list, I feel as though I and my family are at heightened risk," one teacher said.

"Due to my teaching a class of 30 children and those families possibly engaging with lots of people and passing things on," they added.

Some felt vulnerable because of their age.

'I could keep my own classroom clean but will be in six different rooms every day'

"I’m over 50 and at risk. We are no longer allowed our own classroom and have to move between groups of students. This will put staff at greater risk. I could keep my own room clean but will be in six different rooms every day," another respondent commented.

The Tes survey conducted just before the end of last term has already revealed that more than three-quarters of school staff thought government safety guidelines would be "impossible" or "difficult" to achieve when schools reopened. 

It revealed that an overwhelming 9 in 10 school staff lacked confidence in the government's test and trace policy to ensure schools can open safely, while more than a third (35 per cent) have said they feel the government's approach to Covid safety in schools "won't work' and will leave them "at risk".

Some respondents felt reasonably confident about their personal safety because of how effective distancing had been last term. But they cautioned that the numbers of pupils returning could affect this.

'My main concern is about the numbers of children coming back'

"Having worked in school all of term six successfully I am generally looking forward to going back, although my main concern is about the numbers of children coming back as well as getting all the children who weren't at school during lowdown to understand the new rule and systems - especially if the guidance is changed or published very late on," one respondent said, 

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, said: "All these statistics show the government has a lot further to go to convince school staff that it is in control of the virus.

"We want to see real improvements to test, track, trace, isolate, and much clearer procedures for when a case is found at a school.

"We need to know what the Government's proposals are for how schools in particular high-case areas should operate if cases aren’t falling. And we must have comprehensive proposals to track the effect of school opening both in terms of the R rate, and on the safety of staff.

'We have been calling for a Plan B for months'

"This can start with much better engagement with the trade unions. We have been calling on the Government to provide a Plan B for months, and they are now almost out of time. This is a serious dereliction of duty."

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "There is bound to be anxiety about returning to school in these circumstances and it is clearly going to take time to build confidence as staff and pupils become used to the safety processes which have been in put in place.

"But we also know how much staff are looking forward to seeing their pupils again and being back in the classroom."

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "Getting all children back into their classrooms full-time in September is a national priority, because it is the best place for their education, development and wellbeing. This will be particularly important for disadvantaged children and those with special educational needs.

"We have always been clear in our guidance about the protective measures that schools should implement to reduce risks for staff and pupils as far as possible.

"Parents are becoming increasingly confident in their children returning to school, which is testament to the work of school staff across the country who are putting in place a range of protective measures to prepare to welcome back all pupils at the start of term."

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Catherine Lough and Amy Gibbons

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