On Thursday June 4th 2020 The TES ran this story from the DfE which basically said that head teachers must continue to conduct teacher appraisals during the Covid-19 health pandemic. There was absolute outrage from most of the teachers. Their annoyance stemmed largely from the fact that we are now to be judged on targets set at the start of the academic year that we have no opportunity to achieve and of course we are subject to performance related pay.
During the 10 weeks that children (except for key worker children) have been away from school teachers have had to endure an ever increasing smear campaign from the press and media informing parents and the wider public how lazy we are, 10 weeks off and still we don’t want to return is their message to the people.
The press have told parents that their children have missed 6 months of vital schooling. The reality is that they have missed around 8 weeks when the holidays are taken out. Also, it is important to remember that if they have all been away from new learning then none have actually missed out, there will be no gaps to fill. That was the original plan from the DfE back in March, this directive has been lost over the weeks.
Let’s rewind and see what has actually happened, what teachers have actually been doing. Back at the start we speedily prepared our children for their schools closing. This may sound like nothing but as teachers and TAs we know that this is a vital step. Children needed to know that their school would be safe and it would be there for them again. After all, a huge chunk of their lives was going to be removed and this would bring a sense of loss.
The first thing we noticed was that safeguarding snowballed. I have written elsewhere about this so I won’t repeat myself. It is safe to say that children need the reassurance of school to prevent them from going into meltdown sometimes due to their family circumstances. Teachers stepped up and performed the role of social workers in many cases.
We learnt to teach online with no training at all. That may sound simple, until you try it. This is not just something you know, it takes time to learn. Teachers also prepared paper homework packs and activities as not everyone has the internet and cannot even access online learning.
Then came the free school meals saga. School business managers up and down the land lost hours of their lives sitting at their laptops attempting to obtain the vouchers for the children. Meanwhile, education staff were out at food banks packing up parcels of food and dropping them off to ensure all the children had meals. Parents were rung weekly to check if we could help at all. Those teachers who did this listened to some awful stories from parents who just needed someone to offload to. If you are a single parent, 10 weeks is a long time to be in isolation with your children. Married couples were also arguing more and this caused tension in the family home which often spilled out when the friendly phone call home was made.
Teachers organised Zoom chats as a way of keeping in touch with their classes. They devised different methods of contacting them, often just to make sure they were alright but also to maintain their level of learning where possible. At the same staff were all trying to keep an eye on each other. Schools up and down the land have been organising online quizzes and bingo via Zoom simply to keep eyes on all their staff and ensure their well being. Education staff are exhausted.
Now we are preparing to open. I won’t go into the politics of this but we now have to devise a new way of existing in school. We are setting up cleaning stations outside classrooms, establishing one way systems around schools, putting up posters about social distancing and hand washing. Again, staff are learning as we are doing it. Bubbles are being established, parents contacted and told of the new rules to keep their children safe and still we are safeguarding the vulnerable ones.
School staff are very busy writing a bespoke recovery curriculum as we know that some children will be traumatised when they return. Let’s face it, they won’t be returning to the school they left. They may be in a different room with different children and will not understand why they are not with their friends. They can’t bring in their own possessions and are only in part time. In many cases teachers are being met with resistance from parents who think it’s too soon to get the children in.
The response from the DfE during all of this has been woeful. In the week prior to half term they released 41 different guidance statements and on the Sunday of half term they released EYFS guidance on returning to school. Their contribution has not helped at all. As fast as plans were made, head teachers and leadership teams had to screw them up and start again.
School staff have endured all of this over the last 10 weeks. As always we do our best for the children. The DfE can and will throw anything at us and we are unshakable in our determination to look after the children. That said, a little respect wouldn’t go amiss. We are told repeatedly that we are a vital part of the Government’s plan to get the country back to work and restart the economy. How can this be if we are such a feckless bunch? If we are so vital to the country and the economy can we at least have a little respect and maybe some credit for all our hard work, is that too much to ask?