Teachers ‘at breaking point’ over covid-19 class conditions

Our education correspondent, GENE BRODIE, on the growing disquiet among teachers in Croydon and across the country over the risks that they face from coronavirus

The return of children to schools last month has not gone as well as was hoped

The leader of a teachers’ union has written to government to warn that “secondary schools increasingly appear to be high-risk environments for coronavirus”.

The letter is from Dr Patrick Roach, the general secretary of NASUWT, the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, and was sent to the Scottish Assembly after covid infections there increased 10-fold in September from the month before. Schools in Scotland began to return after the initial lockdown in mid-August.

And according to one Croydon-based teacher, conditions in schools as they approach the end of the first half-term after lockdown are fast approaching a situation where classes are unteachable because of staff and pupils absences. Teachers feel that they are “at breaking point”, the teacher said.

At the weekend, Dr Roach said, “Schools should remain open as long as they remain safe.

“But it is clear the spike in the covid-19 transmission rate in certain secondary school children age groups, and also primary school age groups, coupled with the rise in transmission in the community, could potentially increase the risk to teachers and other education staff unless further measures are introduced in schools to protect them.”

As Inside Croydon reported exclusively last week, some schools in the borough appear to have adopted a policy of silence over the measures that they have been taking to make their school environment safe for pupils and staff, and they have even avoided notifying parents in the event that a member of staff or pupils tests positive for covid-19.

“It is all pretty fraught at work, everyone stretched due to around half a dozen staff out, isolating at any time,” the teacher told Inside Croydon on condition of anonymity.

NASUWT’s Dr Patrick Roach: ‘a major concern’

The teacher had outlined the new working circumstances last month, after the first week back in the classroom.

Now, their school is getting used to something called “blended learning”, which the teacher describes as “another stress”.

They said, “In our school blended learning manifests itself as trying to manage a class in which most are in the room but some are on Microsoft Teams, all at the same time.”

The teacher reports, “Our Year 9s and 11s were back in last week after two weeks out because of positive test results in those years. Our Year 12s are out now. I had to confirm that I had not been withing two metres of the positive student who I teach, or I would have been out.

“They have just sacked a school bus driver for refusing to wear a mask.

“Everyone feels they are at breaking point, having to work longer hours because of extra duties to cover those who are out and keeping ‘bubbles’ apart all through the day.”

And teachers’ unions, who have long lobbied for proper track and trace measures to be in place nationally before any return to school, are now seeing that – their warnings having gone unheeded – a surge in the number of positive cases.

For his part, Dr Roach argues that the authorities may be failing in their legal duty of care to his members, who are not safe in their place of work.

“The sharp upward trend in the data is a major concern for our members and secondary schools increasingly appear to be high-risk environments for coronavirus,” Dr Roach wrote in his letter to John Swenney, the education secretary in Scotland.

“This situation urgently requires attention by the government and further mitigating measures need to be identified and implemented.”

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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2 Responses to Teachers ‘at breaking point’ over covid-19 class conditions

  1. Our teachers are always at breaking point, it seems. Most have had a very long Covid-imposed break, so should be re-invigorated. I fear Trades Union politicking and I wish they’d take some responsibility and initiative for making the new normal work best for outr children

    • That’s neither fair nor accurate, Chris. The majority of teachers continued to work, under very testing circumstances, from March to July, preparing and conducting lessons which were staged remotely, as well as carrying out the assessments for public examinations which were then promptly ignored by the government’s notorious algorithm.
      Organising classes of 30 or so children, some online, some in a classroom, while also covering for sick colleagues is not “politicking”, and no teacher is responsible for the appalling failure of the government to deliver the promised “world-beating” track and trace and testing infrastructure which was promised would be in place before the schools returned.

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