PERSONAL
14/05/2020 06:00 BST

I’m A Teacher. Reopening Schools In June Feels Like Throwing Us To The Wolves

Having caught coronavirus in the classroom, I know first-hand how the government is putting school staff, children and their families at risk of if we reopen schools now.

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In the same broadcast Boris Johnson declared 31,000 deaths from coronavirus tantamount to success, the prime minister also announced the likelihood of schools reopening in June for the last half-term of the school year. As a teacher, I can tell you we have neither the plans in place nor the infrastructure necessary to do this safely. Instead, it feels like we are being thrown to the wolves.

Why are we about to put a nation of school staff back at risk? We’re going back under a guise of being ‘for the children’, but the truth is we’re going back so the Conservatives can continue to prioritise saving the economy, by alleviating working parents of childcare.

I remember, in the long wait for schools to close, watching the death toll skyrocket as I tried to reassure the children that everything was fine so long as they sang happy birthday when they washed their hands. Then I contracted the virus. 

For weeks I struggled to breathe, had a fever so high I hallucinated, and couldn’t see. I’m 27, an age where they told me I would be ‘okay’. I recovered, but the fear of reinfection and fear for my colleagues and children supersede that. Having had the virus, I know first-hand how bad it is. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone else. I’m scared for my colleagues. I was one of the lucky ones, who didn’t require hospital ventilation, or pass away from the deadly virus. I know exactly what there is to be scared of, and what the government will be putting school staff, children and their families at risk of, if we reopen schools before it is safe to do so.

How can we possibly be expected to practice social distancing in the classroom? Every teacher up and down the country will tell you this will not happen.

For Year 6, the second summer half-term is mostly a time to finally relax after the pressures of SATs the government (unnecessarily) thrust upon them. I don’t want them to miss their school play and their one opportunity for art lessons in the whole academic year, but why are they being sent back?

And when they do return, how will school for only reception, Year 1 and Year 6 work? How can we possibly be expected to practice social distancing in the classroom? Every teacher up and down the country will tell you this will not happen. Our school currently looks after just five children of key workers and it’s already impossible. I can only assume no one involved in this policy has ever spent any time in school with children.

There is the suggestion that classes should be split into groups of no more than fifteen. But has our government even done the maths? In my school, four of our eight teachers are unable to come in due to medical reasons. Will they be forced into action, or will the other four of us be forced to teach key stages we have no experience in, before spending our evenings catching up on the cyber classrooms of our own classes? 

Even worse, the guidance states PPE still isn’t necessary in schools. Instead, they state that we should ensure that they regularly wash their hands, and remove soft furnishings and toys. You should stay with your small group of 15, and stagger break and lunch times. Presumably, this means that teachers will effectively lose their lunch breaks, and stay with the children instead. Teachers are already working through our lunches, resourcing and planning lessons. How are we to juggle it all?

Do we teachers need to somehow be in school to cover children who are in, and at the same time at home continue to work with other class virtually?

All this isn’t even to speak of the children who don’t have to return to school. Do we teachers need to somehow be in school to cover children who are in, and at the same time at home continue to work with other class virtually? What about the children of workers who are now being sent back to work, but don’t fall into the allocated year groups allowed to return? What about the children of the teachers themselves? It’s as if the government are choosing to loosen restrictions based not on evidence or an adequate drop in deaths, but to fit neat, obedient time frames.

Of course I don’t want children to be out of school, missing their vital education. A safe move to this stage could have been possible – if the government had acted quicker, with a speedy lockdown, adequate PPE, quarantine at airport borders and prioritisation of human beings over the economy. Perhaps we had emulated the likes of New Zealand’s lockdown plan or South Korea’s track and trace, maybe it would be safe for us to go back to school. But it isn’t.

Within two hours of Boris Johnson’s broadcast, the NEU had emailed to confirm that Boris Johnson has given no scientific evidence to show that reopening schools is safe, and reiterated that their five safety tests have not been met. They asked for the opinions of teachers and school staff, apparently overlooked in the government’s (lack of?) consultation process. They stated that “without the evidence, the science and safety measures in place, this announcement is nothing short of reckless.” 

That’s leadership. If only we had it from the Prime Minister.

Bella Fields is a primary school teacher in London, writing under a pseudonym

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