Older and vulnerable teachers say the Department for Education (DfE) needs to issue clearer advice on what steps schools can take to protect them, particularly when working with younger children with whom social distancing is “impossible”.
Unpaid leave, and swapping those teachers concerned into classes of older pupils, where social distancing is seen as more practical, are two possible measures schools could take, one teacher told Tes.
He said: “Schools have got so many things to deal with lately that older teachers won’t be high on their list of priorities, which is sad.
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The teacher, who did not wish to be named, said his wife, who had high blood pressure and is over 60, had the option to self-isolate following the issuing of more stringent guidelines by the government last night but that she “didn’t want to let the school down”.
He added: “It doesn’t come naturally. She is of the ‘carry-on mindset’. She spoke to the head and was told ‘it’s up to you’.
“The guidance is that schools should continue as normal. But if schools are going to stay open, there needs to be some risk analysis to make sure older teachers are not over-exposed.
“Particularly in the early-years setting, the idea of social distancing is impossible. It’s a nonsense.”
“I’m a secondary teacher so I can potentially carry on with very little contact with pupils, but my wife teaches reception. She would consider leave without pay if it came to it.”
Latest DfE figures show there are around 35,500 teachers aged 55 and over in England’s schools, which is around 8 per cent of the total workforce.
Vulnerable groups being advised to keep a social distance include people with diabetes, asthma and anyone who qualifies for a flu jab.
One primary headteacher in her 60s, who said she had four separate health conditions, each of which placed her on the vulnerable persons list, said she may have no choice but to “abandon ship”.
She said: “Everyone running a school is left out there to manage this situation but, for a dedicated school leader, it feels like a captain abandoning ship – but surely my life matters as well.
"The only advice we are receiving is on how to keep schools open but the advice for people like me is social distancing. I want to be responsible to protect myself and others but my job is literally a public gathering.
“People shouldn’t be penalised for medical conditions. This is a pandemic happening in real time. Options need to lie in partnership arrangements, risk assessments but, moreover, clear advice for vulnerable people no matter what their job is.”
Highlighting a “rising sense of panic” in schools, the NASUWT teaching union said yesterday there was a lack of clear information from the government with regard to steps to protect teachers.
And the NEU teaching union issued a list of 10 underlying health conditions with which teachers should stay off work.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “This is a desperately worrying situation for people who are in at-risk groups.”
When contacted for a comment, the DfE referred Tes to guidance from Public Health England on social distancing and protecting older people and vulnerable adults.