It appears from certain quarters that our teachers are failing to rise to the occasion and become heroes. It appears that they are selfishly trying to ensure that neither they, their families nor the kids they treat fall prey to the coronavirus. What traitors the teaching profession possesses! Of course, we might have greater respect for this call if it didn’t largely come from the privileged upper middle classes who are safely ensconced in nice big houses and having food and services served up to them by working class people who have had no choice other than to put their lives on the line to pay the mortgage.
I dare anyone to disagree with this paragraph. There is no one who doesn’t want the schools to reopen as quickly as possible. Children being off for months damages their education prospects and their mental health and the effects will be felt most by those whose parents are poorest with the worst jobs and in the worst housing. Unless we get the kids back to school their parents can’t get back to work and help us deal with the terrible economic problems that will emerge increasingly over the coming weeks.
We provably all agree with a qualification to this. That the return can only be undertaken when it is safe to do so. There the digression starts because we all seem to have different ideas about what safe means. As an old fogey with no young kids around and even the grandchildren currently beyond reach I’ve had time to think about what I would do if I were a parent with young children now. It seems to me that there would be three lots of questions that I would want to ask:
- Questions about the school:
How safe is it?
Can social distancing be maintained and if so for how many children at a time?
Where are the congregation points?
Can we really expect very young children to social isolate without scaring them into a bad experience of school that will last them for life?
How many teachers will be able to teach given that they might be self-isolating either because of themselves or others in their household? The same, of course, applies to all the other people needed to make the school work.
Will the kids clubs which some working people rely on be open?
- Questions about getting to school and into it?
Is there a safe socially working route to school?
Will school buses be able to operate in a social distanced and safe way?
Wil ordinary buses be able to cope with sudden onrushes of children before and after school?
Could we increase the number of children who walk or bike to school?
Will we be adding to the number of cars on the road at peak times?
- Questions about my family
Who is needing to be shielded in the family?
What family support is available for the kids if I go back to work?
Do my children have underlying illnesses which would make them susceptible to the virus?
So this is not easy either for decision makers or parents. I think we will have a messy return to education. Some schools might be able to be opened because of their design while the school next to it will not because they cannot effectively put in place social distancing measures. Some families will need to keep their children of for family reasons. Some might be able to send one child but not another. Some schools will have easy transport options and others will not.
There is no right answer to this. The worst answer though is to try and insist on a uniform return to school. The questions are too complex for that. The worst response to a messy opening would be for the privileged elite who would, no doubt, like to have the children of working families going up chimneys again, to say that teachers who don’t return are being unpatriotic and that parents that don’t send their kids back are feckless idlers.
But I do have some criticism of the teaching profession. As I have talked to people in my ward I have been told very different things about the schools that serve it. Some have been in contact with the children on their rolls giving semi-formal education and advice about good things to do such as watching the Chester Zoo broadcasts. Others have been treating this as an extended holiday and have not been in touch with parents at all.
By now all schools should have an outreach policy in place and be working on it. By now all management teams in schools of all levels should have worked out answers to the type of school based questions which I have outlined above. I hope that after the crisis is over -whenever that might be – Governing Bodies will be asking Heads and staff what they did to maintain educational standards during the lock down.
In the meantime, Liverpool Council is taking the right approach. It has delayed a return. It is trying to recognise the individual circumstances of people, teachers and schools and is working to ensure that schools will be safe places for our young people whenever the right time is for them to reopen on a proper basis.