"I’ve no doubt there will be deaths because older folk underestimated the risk from younger generations," says Sheffield teacher

The gaps are starting to appear in the registers as schools across the city start to see the impact of coronavirus.

Tuesday, 29th September 2020, 7:31 am
The gaps are starting to appear in the registers as schools across the city start to see the impact of coronavirus.

Children are sent home to self-isolate every day, either showing symptoms or having been in close contact with a confirmed case.

Working in a school is usually stressful, emotion and tiring – but not normally on public health grounds. This is like no other academic year anybody has known.

New class codes have been created on the system to indicate why the kids are off, a subtle reminder of the virus as you take the register.

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"Schools are simply not ‘covid secure’. This is a myth that has been triumphantly sold to many I've spoken to, including grandparents who are taking up childcare duties."

There’s one code to say they’ve called in with symptoms, another to indicate they’re self-isolating because a family member has symptoms and one to show they are Covid-19 positive.

Schools have fallen victim to the collapse of the testing system. Every school should have tests available in house - hundreds of them - to ensure they can keep the learning and the economy on track.

But they don’t have any.

And so this week I’ve seen staff go home because they’re kids have symptoms and they’ve not resurfaced for over a week because no tests have been available and when one is finally booked it’s taken days to process. One teacher I know was denied a test because it was claimed they were not a key worker.

Supply agencies are poised for what may well be their busiest ever time. At the moment some Headteachers are trying to cover the absence internally, cheaply. They know they’re annual supply budget and they suspect they’re in for a rough ride in a few weeks.

Supply teachers haven’t been inundated with work so far as many people thought they would be. Some are still going from school to school on different days, a terribly silly idea in a pandemic.

The figures in England show the percentage attendance in the first weeks of school to be in the high 80s.

This would match with what I’ve seen; every class has two or three kids missing.

Some schools, as you’ll be aware, have sent classes and year groups home and it’s only a matter of time until this affects every school.

But there’s been a definite change in tone from heads regarding teachers self-isolating, following a relaxing of government advice.

We’ve been told quite clearly that we won’t be sent home without symptoms - even if the kids in the classes we teach are. Not unless we’ve been sitting directly across from them for 15 minutes, which rarely happens.

And so the myth continues that teachers are somehow covid-friendly, a sub-species that the virus knows how to avoid.

Imagine if I teach a double Y11 class on a Monday morning and that group - perhaps a rowdy and shouty one - is sent home in the afternoon because a few have symptoms.

I’d be left to potentially pass germs onto Years 7-10 rather than being asked to self-isolate. It’s one of many crazy decisions that are being made in the fairy-tale land where kids are seen as being in bubbles and schools are thought covid secure.

Kids are not in Year group bubbles in most schools. There is not the space to keep them apart, they mix on the corridor, they touch the same door handles and tables, they share crowded buses, they have mixed-year lifts to school. But apart from anything else, they are children - so they will forget and high five each other. You can remind them, but once it’s done it’s done. Despite the best plans, children are still mingling together and pushing the mask-wearing boundaries.

So when you hear about ‘bubbles’ being sent home, there’s a fair chance germs have already been passed to different groups.

Schools are simply not ‘covid secure’. This is a myth that has been triumphantly sold to many I've spoken to, including grandparents who are taking up childcare duties.

I’ve no doubt that there will actually be deaths in the coming months because older folk underestimated the risk from younger generations on the back of the ‘schools are safe’ mantra.

Extra cleaners have been employed, this is true. But I’ve seen them operate and there’s no way they’re keeping the school completely safe - there’s not enough of them.

So computers, books, door handles, pens, glue sticks and scissors are just some items being used by consecutive groups without being properly cleaned.

The latest buzz phrase in management meetings is ‘blended learning’ - this meaning the mix of school and home learning most heads think the school year will comprise of.

In fact, we’re already being asked to do this - sending work home and monitoring it for all the children not attending. It’s a task that is harder than it sounds, and will no doubt get harder as the mix develops.

One school in the city has bought iPads for all students and will attempt to ‘live teach’ the full timetable in the event of lockdown, while school less awash with cash have drawn up plans to put recorded lessons online again.

Teachers are doing a sterling job so far in keeping things going in spite of big risks.

There are things that could be improved at a national level – such as testing and the clarity of the guidance – that would make it easier for schools to function. And there are factors that could be improved at a local level – regarding the cleaning and bubbles – that extra funding and planning would help to solve.

But these are unprecedented times and everybody is doing their best to keep this delicate house of cards from falling down around our heads.