By Tom Mann, Head of Inclusion at Kingsbury High School, Brent
Having been a teacher for just over 30 years, I cannot recall a more difficult and confusing time for the profession. The re-
Some schools have made the use of masks compulsory outside of the classroom since September; some are only just implementing this policy; there have been different policies for the use of laptops by staff; staggered starts and finishes have been introduced in some schools but not in others, and different schools have implemented different policies for the deployment of support staff. These are just a few examples of the inconsistencies that have resulted from lack of any central guidance.
Although it is clear by now that limiting contacts with others and upholding high levels of hygiene are key to minimising infection, neither of these are in real evidence in schools at the moment. Class sizes remain high, masks are not worn in class and, although hand-
Ministers have often said that young people are much less vulnerable to this virus than adults. This certainly seems to be true of children of primary school age, among whom hospitalisation is very rare. However, there is increasing evidence of older students becoming ill more often and more severely. Most research has been carried out in the primary age group and there appears to be no clear idea of how the virus affects secondary students, with one study claiming that adolescents are just as contagious as adults. In the present state of knowledge, schools clearly should err on the side of caution because young people can pass the virus on to those more vulnerable to the illness, especially in multi-
As well as a lack of leadership there is also a serious lack of money. The government has made it clear that it intends schools to remain open even if everything else has been shut down but it has not put in place the necessary additional finance. The government's original promise to equip schools with large numbers of laptops to enable deprived children to receive online teaching has never been properly delivered and schools have now been informed that the numbers originally promised have been cut by 80%. The money allocated to enable pupils who have fallen behind to catch up through additional teaching has not been allocated to schools but to private tutoring organisations, who will charge fees to deliver to schools and who are not required to employ qualified teachers. The new money announced before the pandemic will largely be spent on increases in teachers' salaries: very welcome but not going to recompense schools and colleges for the work needed to make them safe during the pandemic. As Geoff Barton of ASCL succinctly puts it: ‘It is a moral duty of the government to support schools’.
Vulnerable staff have rightly been instructed to work from home and this, along with the absence of staff who are self-
In spite of government pronouncements, exams may again be impossible to enact safely this summer but there does not seem to be any “plan B”. As a result, schools appear to be deciding the issue themselves with 'more important' mock exams around Christmas (without the necessary catch-
My suggestions for improving upon this situation would include the following: