Why school rotas could have been a total nightmare

Calls for schools to be able to use rotas were ignored for months – it's no shock they're now banned, says Emily Gunton

Emily Gunton

Coronavirus: It's no surprise school rotas are now banned, says Emily Gunton

The government's approach to tiers has been confusing from the start. There are four tiers for schools, and then three tiers for everyone else. 

The two different tier systems don't correspond with each other at all. Mass confusion over what you can and can't do in all these tiers has led many of us to tears.

Amazingly, no school has climbed above Tier 1 of the four school tiers, despite three-quarters of secondary schools sending students home. The step up to Tier 2 would have involved a student rota system, but the government decided that wearing masks was sufficient in the face of rising cases. 

In recent weeks, endless column inches have been taken up with speculation about what tier we are all going to be in once lockdown is lifted and the world can return to the gym and Primark. 

Coronavirus: A year of education U-turns

One thing we do know is that the government seems to be practising U-turns like it is in a car with L-plates. There should be no surprise that there has now been a U-ey on school rotas. Anyone else feeling dizzy after a year of education one-eighties? 

Presumably, someone high up in the Department for Education spent a good few days thinking of the next way to confuse school leaders. They also had to coin a snazzy slogan, just as memorable as "track and trace".

The new system has been named quite simply "on or off". This translates as schools being either "open or closed". But education secretary Gavin Williamson – who has been remarkably quiet of late – obviously preferred a slogan with fewer syllables.

The biggest surprise of all this is that it isn't really a surprise. Some areas of the country that have been hardest hit by Covid have battled through nearly three months of disruption, yet have only stayed in Tier 1. Their cries for rotas and school closures in the face of spiralling staff absences and rising Covid cases have fallen on deaf ears. But, like absolute troopers, they have battled on nonetheless. 

The government dug its heels in over school rotas

It has become increasingly obvious that, over the course of the term, the government decided it was going to dig its heels in and ignore the science, the unions and the advice on circuit-breakers

To be honest, though, I’m quite relieved to see the back of the (always hypothetical) rota system. Although it sounds as if it is a workable system, I wonder if, when it came to it, it would be a total nightmare. 

Teaching online throughout the summer term was tough, but the saving grace was that you changed your whole scheme of work, so you could teach it from home, and students could access the curriculum from home. (Though let's not get started on the laptop debacle. Where are they, Gav?)

If we went to a rota system, we would find ourselves in a situation where we would have to replan, redesign or – to put it bluntly – throw together a series of lessons that would work on a rota system. 

I don't know about anyone else, but my schemes of work are sick of being in draft. Never have they had so much attention. And, to be quite frank, they are happily settled in version five now. They don't want to go through another update. The relationship between them and me has become strained, and I feel some distance between us would be beneficial.

Meanwhile, ministers are free to bed down in their inflexibility, and look forward to summer 2021, when we'll be faced with a fresh round of exam chaos.

Emily Gunton is director of music, head of co-curricular and outreach and school consultant teacher at Blackheath High School in south-east London

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