'Clinically vulnerable' teachers under pressure to work

A union advice line is hearing from vulnerable older teachers under pressure to work in school

Catherine Lough

older teacher

Medically vulnerable older teachers are calling a union advice line, reporting they are under pressure to return to the classroom during the coronavirus pandemic.

The news comes as the government's chief medical adviser, Professor Chris Whitty, said last night that primary schools reopening this week was a potential risk to pupils' grandparents.

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And last week Professor Karl Friston, a member of the Independent Sage committee group, said he felt the risks of sending a child back to school would be "too high" if they lived with a grandparent.

Now Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, has told Tes that the union's helpline has received numerous calls from medically vulnerable older teachers feeling pressured to return to work.

"Our advice line has had a lot of members ringing saying that they are either clinically vulnerable themselves or they live with people who are clinically vulnerable – for example, living with pregnant wives – and they’ve been put under a lot of pressure to go back in," she told Tes.

"That’s not the case in every school – some school leaders are really doing the right thing but, for example, we had one the other day who’s saying the head’s doing a risk assessment on which staff can and can’t be in school because of their health, and then in the next sentence [says], ‘The head is not a medical expert’."

"So, we are supporting many staff who either because of age or because of an underlying health condition shouldn’t be in school, and they are being told they have to be in school."

Dr Bousted said that studies showed Covid-19 was "a disease that is unusually cruel the older you get," and that this was especially alarming for older teachers, as it was "often the case is that if you’re over 60 you might have other illnesses as well because age and infirmity creep up on you".

"Some 60-year-olds are perfectly fit and perfectly healthy and will feel fine about being onsite in school, but others won’t, for very good reasons, and really, now is not the time to be standing on your authority," she said.

"Now is the time to be working with people, because it’s not as though there’s nothing to do from home. Teachers and support staff can work from home, and there’s work for them to do."

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author bio

Catherine Lough

Catherine Lough is a reporter at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @CathImogenLough

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