Schooling Covid

When I first started primary school, I wholeheartedly believed that our teachers lived in their classrooms. That once the bell rang at 3pm, they were folded up, zipped into a dust jacket, and stashed away in the paper cupboard overnight, ready to be brought out again in the morning for a new day of learning, after a quick outfit change and system reboot.

It seemed implausible to me, as a five-year-old, that these wise and authoritative adults had homes, families and lives of their own. That they existed outside their role as my teacher and golden-time granter in their own right as autonomous individuals, whose sole purpose wasn’t just to read me the alphabet and referee netball games on Tuesday afternoons.

This naive attitude, while forgivable for five or six-year-olds, has surprisingly been adopted in part by the Scottish Government in its decision to keep schools open as normal in tier 3 or 4 areas, as Scotland continues to move through the coronavirus pandemic.

Under the new tier system, in localities that fall under level 4 restrictions, where the prevalence of virus is assessed high enough, only essential shops are allowed to stay open. Restaurants, cafes, pubs and bars have been instructed to shut their doors again, and meeting people from outside your household in strictly prohibited indoors.

With schools being kept open as usual, teachers have been placed very much on the frontline of Scotland’s lockdown effort; mixing with hundreds of households a day and juggling their learning outcomes with new COVID-health and safety protocols. Entirely vulnerable, overworked and expected to put up with it.

As any teacher will tell you; it is impossible to remain socially distant from children. And the younger they are, the more difficult this becomes.

Instructed to stay at their desk, with many wearing a mask, their ability to teach is hampered, as they try to manage classes of children who are already stressed and distracted. With groups of pupils being asked to self-isolate at home on a rotating basis, as each new contact is traced, continuity in teaching and structure in the pupils’ days is lost.

For teachers living with vulnerable family members, their working week has become somewhat of a roulette; each passing day bringing a new chance for infection and bringing it back home.

In a survey by the EIS, Scotland’s largest teaching union, it was found that 51% supported level 4 areas to move to remote working, with unions warning of future industrial action if staff felt their safety had been put at risk. Although almost two thirds (64%) support the Scottish Government’s decision to prioritise schools being kept open, it is clear many feel their wellbeing and safety had been compromised.

EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan said, “These survey findings confirm that the majority of Scotland’s teachers want to be in school working with pupils, and support the aim of keeping schools open where possible. Despite this, however, it is clear that a significant number of teachers (43%) do not feel safe working in schools under the existing arrangements. This feeling of being at risk is particularly heightened for teachers in secondary schools, for teachers in higher risk areas under Level 3 or Level 4 restrictions, and for teachers in vulnerable groups or who live with or provide care for vulnerable family members.”

Mr Flanagan continued, “Although members hold a range of opinions on the best means of keeping pupils and teachers safe, there is clear support for moving to industrial action in higher risk areas to protest where teachers feel that the measures required to keep schools safe have not been delivered.”

Throughout this pandemic, we have consistently been told that saving lives is the priority. That all our sacrifices and hardship are for a greater cause; for protecting our communities and shielding our most vulnerable. I ask then; why has this common goal has not been extended to our educators.

Why has their safety and the safety of their families and close contacts not been given the same level of care and protection. Teachers do not just exist in the classroom, and whatever they pick up from their workplace, they bring home. I am worried for my friends and family who are currently grappling with the impossible task of trying to teach effectively, and inspire young minds, all the while putting their own health at risk.

Teachers are not invincible, and they are not expendable. They are not just free childcare, and their health and the health of their families should not be offered up as a reasonable sacrifice.






Comments (23)

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  1. Iain Miller says:

    Agreed 100%, Jenny …..

    I’m not a teacher but my wife used to be before she retired, and she certainly always seemed to be a carrier of anything and everything which was currently doing the rounds in school.

    As you say, teachers are not invincible and they are certainly not expendable, and the Scottish government should be addressing this problem now, before it’s too late!

  2. Mark Bevis says:

    “Why has their safety and the safety of their families and close contacts not been given the same level of care and protection.” You ask.

    Because the UK government is following the same principles as Nazi Germany, or any other fascist handbook, where people not of the same class as the government coterie are expendable. Simples.

    Sorry to have to say it, but you and me and most of the people reading this blog are considered with contempt and total indifference by the UK government, who have no empathy other than with money.

    Currently they couldn’t get away with saying that directly, you have to work it out yourself from the results of their actions.

    State education teachers are particularly expendable because they might teach the children something the government didn’t want them to hear, shock horror. Same as nurses and doctors, they might keep poor people alive longer thereby adding expense to the benefit budget, more shock horror.

    When you realise that those in charge really DO NOT care, a lot of their actions make sense.

    The whole tiered lockdown has been a gimmick whilst schools have been left open, even the scientists advising the government said that back at the beginning of September.
    Where the Scottish government fit into that coterie is up to others to work out.

    1. mince'n'tatties says:

      A lost the plot post. The Nazis were never about ”class”, they were about race, belief and its worthiness. The Volk. That was core to their fanatical attraction. Hitler despised the east river Elbian Vons, those from historic Prussia. The old aristocracy. Their Christianity.
      His loathing was levelled at anything to do with Judean Christian belief and as he saw it. its off shoot. Jew Bolshevism.
      You might be angry on how one regards ‘expendables’ but there is no record of Hitler despising people because of money.
      Rich or poor it was always race and its perverted examples of purity.
      Sorry, but your arguement needs better focus, or you lose it.

  3. Fred says:

    In fairness, there is very strong evidence that younger children in particular are far less likely than adults to contract the virus and are also less effective at spreading it. A collection of adults at the same density would result in a high degree of cross-infection but that does not seem to happen with kids. Those are the facts behind the government decision to keep schools open.

    I am no fan of politicians of any persuasion, but I am mighty glad that it’s not me that has to make the decisions in this regard. They are damned by one group or another whichever decision they take and in some cases, the same entities will condemn them in all cases (I’m looking at you, tabloid press). I’m comfortable that – in this case – they are doing what they believe the scientific evidence says is the best.

  4. Alba woman says:

    Dulce et Decorum est pro patria Mori….how sweet and noble it is to die for one’s country….’ ‘The Old Lie ‘ trotted out once more by a herd of 2020 Donkeys.

    Teachers are a precious Social and Cultural resource and should be treated as such. Cannon fodder they are not….

  5. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

    What’s the data on how many school workers have contracted the virus since our schools reopened at the end of the summer?

    The Office for National Statistics found there was no difference in the rates of positive cases between teachers and other professionals working outside of the home between 2 September and 16 October.


      1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

        So, if Sarah’s right. the data is unreliable.

        All the same, what’s the data on how many school workers have contracted the virus since our schools reopened at the end of the summer? Is there any?

  6. James Mills says:

    The ”survey” of EIS members found 51% in favour of remote working : less than a third of Scottish teachers responded to the EIS survey . To extrapolate 51% of EIS members from this is disingenuous . If teachers were SO fearful then there would , surely , have been a more substantial response to any survey .

    Teachers will have every fight to feel more exposed to this virus but using debatable stats to support the case is NOT acceptable , especially in a Union led by an avowed Labour acolyte who has form in whining regularly about the Scottish ( SNP ) Government .

    1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

      Precisely! We all feel exposed. Teachers are not alone in this.

      However, if there is evidence that the risk of infection among school workers and their families is greater than that among other workers, then the mitigation should of course be appropriate to that enhanced risk, and this mitigation might well include reducing or eliminating altogether face-to-face learning and living with the [adjudged ‘lesser’] harms that this in turn might cause.

      But where’s the evidence?

  7. SleepingDog says:

    All the above may be true, and yet the most inspiring example for young minds may be the persistence of teachers and other frontline staff in working for their collective good. Perhaps that is something the majority will look back on with respect when they are older. This is not to trivialise the real dangers to teachers and their families. Working from home and other personal health and safety options should be pursued, and explained to pupils and their parents.

    There has been an increasing risk that education appears unreal to children: preparation for a world that has already largely disappeared, teachers losing authority to the Internet, old teaching methods failing to compete with immersive technologies and heavily-resourced corporate conditioning. But now it is all much more real. Children are being taught how to survive in a hostile world. Teachers who turn up are unlikely to be just in it for the pay packet or pension.

    The most should be made of this moment. Ego-centrism can be challenged as never before in this generation. The collective good can be measured both in news bulletin statistics and in lived experience. Lessons on ecology and systems are given new life. Ethical debates no longer have to reach for abstract thought experiment scenarios. The glamour cast over parts of modern life flickers and fades. The time to teach truth is now.

    1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

      This is all very well, but the duty of care we owe to our school workers (and this includes students as well as teachers and auxiliary staff) demands that, above all else, we ensure their optimum safety in the workplace. This simple pragmatism trumps any designs we may have in socially engineering an ideologically correct future through their working practices (a.k.a. ‘education’).

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Anndrais mac Chaluim, your statement “…demands that, above all else, we ensure their optimum safety in the workplace” is false. There are always trade-offs. Safety of staff cannot be an absolute priority, and it probably takes second place to safety of clients (pupils) anyway. The question is what reasonable level of minimised risk is acceptable. For example, to reach optimum staff safety levels, one might advocate bringing in weapons screening, body searches, metal detection portals. But there is a wider picture of benefit and harm, related to how schools help shape our society.

        1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

          That’s where ‘optimum’ comes in. Optimum safety is the régime that obtains once all the trade-offs have been made, the régime that produces the maximum benefit at the least cost. To take your example, the cost of a régime of routine body searches in schools, in terms of the harm this could cause, would likely outweigh the benefits it could bring. The question here is whether or not closing schools to face-to-face learning during the present emergency would produce an optimum safety régime for the staff and students; in other words, would it cause more harm than good.

          Half of our teachers (allegedly) ‘feel’ unsafe, which is understandable in these unsafe times when we’re all at risk of contracting a potentially deadly virus. But there seems little evidence that would support the assertion that school workers are less safe than others who work outside the home; certainly, none is cited in Jenny’s article.

    2. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

      I do, however, think that the present emergency is raising questions about the traditional delivery model and the profile of alternative models like virtual campuses, blended and distance learning, and ‘schools without walls’. I know that universities are beginning to at long last seriously question the need for workers (students and teachers) in some disciplines to be ‘in physical residence’ or for their workplaces to be centralised in specific physical locations rather than digitally dispersed across no-specific locations. If it wasn’t for the childcare element of our present set-up (and, let’s face it, a major concern of government in keeping schools and preschools open is to enable parents to go out to work), education could easily be made much more accessible, flexible, and person-centred, and much less factory-like.

      1. florian albert says:

        ‘education could easily be made more accessible, flexible and person-centred’

        Agreed, however the experience of universities since the outbreak of covid (and, arguably, long before) shows that schools could easily go the other way.
        University students I have spoken to are agreed that the changes made have led to a deterioration in their learning.
        For pupils from a background which does not encourage learning, schools are- often – an escape to a more orderly environment. I do not romanticize the reality of teaching/learning in Scottish schools but I think there is a real possibility of changes making things worse, rather than better.

        1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

          How do they know this? Is there any hard evidence of a deterioration in performance, or is this just another piece of anecdotal evidence based on ‘feeling’?

          I suppose it depends on which workers you talk to. My youngest laddie started his first year at university at the end of September. He’s thriving as a student, with digital access to most of the grist he needs for his mill, less ‘spoon-feeding’, and considerably fewer distractions from his work. The current régime has obliged him to live much more independently, in much more difficult circumstances than might otherwise have been the case; so, the experience has also been character-forming. But that’s oor Mata, whose always been self-sufficient; for other workers, the whole experience of starting university in a time of pandemic might be much less positive.

          I also take your point that schools can be a refuge for children from abusive home environments; that is, environments in which their developmental needs are not being met. This is part of the point I made about the childcare element of our present set-up. I’m not saying that we should do without schools as daycare centres, only that we should grasp the opportunity presented by the exigencies of the present emergency to develop more of a mixed economy of educational opportunity by normalising many of the current initiatives and offering a wider choice of study styles as standard.

          1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            B*gg*r! ‘…who’s always been self-sufficient…’, not ‘…whose…’ The auld brain cells are definitely deteriorating.

          2. florian albert says:

            The (half dozen) students I have spoken to complain of less contact with tutors/lecturers and a sense of being given less guidance and support than they feel they should be getting. The most intelligent of this group was the most disillusioned, feeling that the university was taking a lot of cash and giving little in return. He is not a Scot and felt that Scottish students accepted what they were given without question.
            Anecdotal, maybe, but pointing to a problem in a sector which has come to be of huge economic ( rather than educational ?) significance.

            Anyone familiar with Scottish schools will be aware of the chasm between teachers in the classroom and those in the SQA and SED – or whatever it calls itself these days – who make the big decisions. They will also know that those at the centre have zero interest in loosening control.

          3. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            Yes, one of the things that struck me when my children began working in university was that students had become much less independent in their learning than they were in my day and much more reliant on tuition. Well, I guess those chickens will have come home to roost during the current disruption to the supply mechanisms.

            But at least that tuition is in Scotland free to non-English European citizens. It must be a bummer for non-Europeans to be paying for goods and services the supply of which has been interrupted.

            I take your point about the nationalisation of education in Scotland. I too have a feeling that the institution would be better – and certainly more democratic – if it was taken out of the hands of the Scottish government and returned to more local control; ideally, to independent parent-teacher councils.

  8. Kenny Smith says:

    I fully support the opening of schools. My youngest started primary 1 and has came on leaps and bounds with her literacy and maths, something that would have been seriously stunted by home learning. The other end of the scale a nephew studying for highers was struggling without the interaction of a teacher and the class environment. I totally understand the worry from teachers but for me they have to stay open because education is only just 2nd to health in the most important and precious of public services. I think there is a strong case to close higher learning campuses but schools and teachers must do all they can to deliver the essential education we need and deserve. A big shout out to all key/front line workers your service is much appreciated

    1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

      Hear, hear!

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