Teachers’ Reaction To Schools Reopening After Pandemic in England & Wales

This week, for the first time since lockdown, schools in England and Wales will begin gradually re-opening their doors. Reception, Year One and Year Six are the first age groups to return, alongside the provisions already being made for key worker’s children. Secondary schools and colleges are expected to return in stages in two weeks’ time. The closure of schools has been one of the most impactful of lockdown, particularly for working parents now having to juggle full-time childcare and homeschooling alongside their jobs. Teachers too, have been forced to adapt to online classes as well as the many who have valiantly continued to teach the children of key workers throughout lockdown – often putting themselves at risk.

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Yet the decision to re-open schools for certain year groups this week has been met with controversy and debate. Latest research from the National Foundation for Educational Research shows that headteachers expect 46% of the children in these age groups to be kept at home by concerned parents and admitted that 29% of teachers will only be available for at-home teaching due to various factors including health vulnerabilities. GLAMOUR speaks to two teachers, who share their views on this divisive issue…“I think the government has prioritised the economy at the expense of our youngest and most vulnerable children.”Sharon Grayson*, 28, is a reception teacher at an academy school in London“Personally I totally disagree with the government sending the children back on the 1st of June, it is way too soon and the guidelines are just not clear enough.
Crucially, these children are just too young to understand social distancing. With the key workers’ children we have had in school during lockdown, we are having to draw chalk circles in the playground to keep them separate and we are having to ask them to jog in an individual box. This has been incredibly hard already, but once we have everyone back, it will be impossible. We are separating out lunchtimes so we have space, which means some kids will be eating lunch at 11am. As more and more year groups come back – what then? Lunch at 9am? There has been no logistical awareness. I think that the problem is that decisions are being made by people who have no experience of working in a school, no experience of working with children. The other side of this is that I don’t feel safe at all and a lot of staff do not either. We have had family members of our students die from Covid. There is a palpable fear among the staff here. We have not been given any PPE. I asked for hand sanitiser and I was given one bottle for me and for my class. It’s not enough. My main issue is that I am incredibly concerned for the wellbeing of these children at such a pivotal age. When they are already scared and confused they are going to be even more so, because school just will feel so different and even quite frightening – from what they remember of it.
They will also be upset after so long at home, so my first concern is: how do you separate a crying, scared four-year-old from their parents when they are back at school without being able to touch them? How am I going to do that without being able to give them a hug?I’m not sure the government really understands how damaging this could be for them. They are not going to be able to play or learn or communicate properly in their formative years. They won’t be able to interact with their peers the way they normally would. Reception is about free play and exploration in their learning. They can’t do that now. I have had to strip the carpet and rugs out of the classroom; all the soft cushions they sit on have gone, all their toys will be gone. It will be really upsetting for them because they won’t even recognise the room and 15 of their classmates will be missing as we have split the class in two. This will massively affect their growth and development, this will really worry them. We taught them to share everything and now they will be told to play in isolation, to keep to themselves. All the things we have put in place for them in their first year of proper school, the things they had adapted to, will be destroyed in just one week back under this new scheme. The older years should have gone back first. The younger years should have gone back last. But that’s what shows you this is purely an economic decision, to get the parents of younger kids back to work. The economy has been prioritised here, but it is at the detriment of our youngest and most vulnerable.” I’m a nurse on £24k working on the Coronavirus frontline – here’s how I’m managing my money during the pandemic

“I can’t wait to go back to school… but we have to get this right”Harriet Hemmings*, 31, is a Year Six teacher at a state primary school in Birmingham“I’m desperate to go back, I think all teachers are desperate to get back to work. For me, if the school can open as safely as possible, that’s a great thing. We want to be able to offer all these places for key workers’ children, I personally want to be able to have all my class in and get all these kids back to school, but the fact remains- we still just don’t know how that will work in reality and how safe that will be. We are doing a staggered opening from this week; nursery first, then reception, then Year One and then Year Six. We are splitting classes in half and trying to observe social distancing but the logistics are especially challenging for primary school teachers. In our risk assessment, everything is bracketed with “where possible” because we are dealing with young children here, they won’t understand social distancing, they won’t understand not being able to touch teachers. If a child falls over, there is no teacher who would not rush to pick them up, or help them if they are injured. My class has 12 tables laid out with 12 separate packs for each child, but there is literally no space to keep them all two metres apart, they are maybe a metre at most? There is no real clarity on how social distancing will actually work in reality in a school. I think that is what has so many teachers, understandably, worried. When our students return, we are going to try and keep the structure of the mornings to the key things that they missed out on, because some children will have had a fantastic home schooling experience and others won’t. That’s mainly because our school is a state school and that means we have a broad range of students- from privileged backgrounds and from very troubling, disruptive home lives. These students are receiving special care from us at this time- daily phone calls, extra help- but these are kids for whom school is better than home. We’ve tried to address this in our online classes. We will do pre-recorded videos but not Zoom – if I did Zoom then 20 students in my class of 30 would not be able to access the Zoom class and those ten that could, would be your most privileged children who have got multiple screens in their home. If you have one laptop and four kids at home, how can you do it? There has to be an alternative so that you are not just educating the ones that have the money. That’s not fair. We have tried to make it as fair as possible.I call some children who are not up until 12.30. I have some parents who give me the phone to wake them up, who have taken no interest in their home schooling at all. I am happy to open up the school for kids like them, the vulnerable ones.The afternoons of the new school day will be focused on their wellbeing, considering they have just been through a pandemic, which is a very strange thing for them. We talk to them every week and they always say how much they miss their friends, miss school, how weird it is for them to have to stay indoors. That breaks my heart, because you can’t give them the answers they need.
I really want to go back to work but I understand the reasons of the people who don’t want to. People think we are not thinking about the children but that is what we are mainly thinking about. We know more than most how children will be affected by this time away, we know that most of the children will be better off at school, but what we don’t want to cause is a second peak. That’s the bottom line. We have to do this right.”

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*names have been changed



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