The government’s decision to allow schools to open for just one day before announcing they would close, has led to chaos and anger as teachers scramble to adapt to the new national lockdown with almost no notice.
Boris Johnson’s abrupt U-turn on Monday evening means weeks’ worth of planning and preparation, much of it done during the Christmas break, has been wasted, teachers have said.
“We want kids to look forward to their futures without worrying about an incompetent government but that’s just impossible at the moment,” RE teacher Daniel Hugill told HuffPost UK.
The National Education Union (NEU) said teachers, parents and pupils had been “knocked from pillar to post by the indecision of this chaotic government” and “working time and resources have been wasted”.
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, told HuffPost UK in a statement: “The Christmas break should have provided a respite, but late guidance and u-turns put paid to that.
“The right decision has finally been made, but we should have got here sooner.”
On Monday night, in an address to the nation, Johnson said schools and colleges in England will again be asked to shift to remote learning as part of a third national lockdown.
The move followed weeks of calls from teachers and unions to keep schools closed, and the timing of the decision infuriated those who had pleaded for he decision to be made sooner.
During his address to the nation, Johnson said the government had been working to keep schools open as “we know how important each day in education is to children’s life chances”.
The excuse was little comfort to teachers who had not only spent weeks planning lessons but had also been trying to implement Covid testing systems in their schools.
“We had headteachers and school leaders trying to become experts in public health over the Christmas holidays,” said Hugill, who teaches at a secondary school in Havering, London.
That work also came on top of all the usual planning teachers had to do.
“I don’t think I can adequately convey just how complex the testing process was, how much information there was to get our heads around and how difficult the guidance – which was comprehensive – was to apply to the school context,” Lorraine Heath OBE, CEO of Uffculme Academy Trust in Devon told HuffPost UK.
“The anxiety and stress of knowing that the tests had to be planned for and delivered on in the first week back was hanging over all of us for the Christmas period.”
Education secretary Gavin Williamson has not made a public statement since the lockdown was announced, and by Tuesday afternoon his only interaction on social media was a retweet of a tweet from Boris Johnson.
Hugill says he wants to see the education secretary sacked.
“I think it will be impossible for him to restore relationships with the [education] sector. Once all this is over and just don’t see how we can ever have a productive relationship, he’s been the most divisive education secretary anyone can remember.
“Even the ones that people disagreed with, we could say they were effective and they got what they wanted done. Williamson has made all these promises and every single time circumstances have proven him wrong.”
Currently, no one knows how long schools will be expected to remain closed. On Tuesday morning, Michael Gove suggested the current national lockdown could last until at least March, despite Johnson suggesting last night coronavirus restrictions could be eased from the middle of February.
The NEU’s Dr Bousted said the government need to “follow the science, interpret the data and listen to the profession”, adding: “They can start by looking at our recovery plan, sent to them in June.”
“There’s just a massive crisis in the [political] leadership. Well, there just isn’t any leadership. There isn’t anyone in charge who [teachers] trust,” said Hugill.
“But despite all that the teachers will do their jobs. And that takes quite a lot, to pretend that everything is going to be OK.
“And it will be OK because we’ll make it OK for them because that’s what schools do.”