In the classroom during covid: Schools morale is sinking fast

CROYDON COMMENTARY: In September, a locally based teacher* gave us an insight into what life was like in the classroom as the schools returned following the first coronavirus lockdown. Here, they update us after the strangest of terms

Two boroughs have ordered their schools closed today. But the government wants schools in England to carry on as ‘normal’

It has been a strange term, this term.

Teachers and pupils alike feel that our lives are on hold – so many activities are suspended – and yet we are careering rapidly towards the exams that, for now at least, the government in England insists all pupils will take.

During the term, the other nations decided to dispense with exams, first, in October, Scotland announced the suspension of its National Five exams (equivalent to GCSEs), then last month Wales announced the suspension of GCSEs and A-levels. Scotland announced the suspension of their Highers, the Scottish equivalents of A-levels, this month.

Last week one of last year’s Year 13 pupils popped in to say hello to some of his teachers. He was one of those who did badly out of the government’s farcical handling of GCSE and A-level assessments in the summer. He was denied a university place by the algorithm. His teacher-generated mark was reinstated, as was everyone else’s, but it was too late and so now he is taking an enforced “year out” while his peers pay £9,000 to attend remote lectures and plot their escape from prison-like student accommodation.

Pupils and we teachers are struggling to believe a government that has a track record of saying one thing one week and doing the opposite the following week. Currently, we are waiting on the details of their latest plan to make exams “easier” and allow pupils who have not been able to access a full two years’ teaching have the same chances as those who have.

Or will they cancel the exams at the last minute and introduce a new, improved algorithm, which they can go on to abandon after it proves as faulty as the last one?

Pupils are asking if it is worth studying at all, and if it is, is it worth going to university.

The start of the school day: at this school (not in Croydon), the lack of social distancing or face coverings make the spreading of coronavirus more likely

On the other hand, the PE department is having an easy time of it. There are no competitive sports fixtures since pupils have to stay in their bubbles, and so PE colleagues have little to do apart from bask in the reflected glory of our national saviour Joe Wicks.

The school trips I had planned will have to wait. We certainly won’t be having a skiing trip to Italy for a while.

Meanwhile, I have been tasked with re-inviting all the outside speakers that I had to cancel this term in order to comply with the school’s covid policy. So, I am sending out emphatically provisional invitations to the Muslim, Jewish and Humanitarian speakers and to the mental health practitioners, on the understanding that they might be able to come in next term. Or then again, maybe they won’t.

I did get one speaker in before the school clamped down entirely on visitors, a criminal barrister who does an entertaining turn with the Sixth Form, essentially giving them tips on how not to get into trouble with the police.

Trouble is, he managed to “drop the C-bomb”, as a colleague rather coyly put it. The context was that it was a word he would advise young people not to use when stopped by the police. Apparently, they don’t like it. You live and learn.

Meanwhile, we are expected to continue to work amid growing uncertainty and anxieties.

The local education authorities in two London boroughs this morning ordered their schools to shut down early, before the official end of term, and not to return from their Christmas break until at least January 11.

Then this afternoon, the government ordered the whole of London to Tier 3 restrictions from Wednesday, while in the same breath insisting that the promised Christmas relaxations of restrictions will still go ahead, and that teachers and pupils must still head into school, with their “bubbles” of 300-plus youngsters and 30 people stuck in a room together for hours at a time.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has been calling for the government to endorse the closure of schools a few days before the end of term in order to mitigate against the spike that we are likely to see after the Christmas restriction precaution-break.

It is hard to look with confidence to the next term. In fact, morale is at an all-time low.

Yes, of course we are grateful that we have jobs; we know we are luckier than some.

But on the other hand we all worked all the way through the pandemic and we are finding our workloads added to by the latest craze, what they are calling “blended learning” – that is that we have to set up an online connection with remote students while also managing the class in front of us.

It is possible, but I come home from work each evening practically wiped out. And then I have to log on and prepare more work and give my students feedback and check my messages from school managers who have discovered that the internet works 24/7.

It has been a strange term, this term.

* For reasons of schools protocols and protection, it has been necessary to keep the identity of the teacher, and their school, anonymous.

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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
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