"We’re not too far away from total breakdown and school life crashing to a halt once more" says Sheffield teacher

If Sheffield schools are going to have any chance of staying open as Covid-19 cases start to riseagain, the council and government need to throw a lot more support behind our headteachers – and quick.

Tuesday, 8th September 2020, 11:26 am
Most schools have now reopened

I’m writing this at the beginning of the week, at the end of a Monday that is effectively the first day back at school with all year groups for many.

There are normally anxieties shared between parents, staff and students at the start of the school year – but I have never experienced a start that is so incredibly troublesome as this.

Just a few teaching hours under my belt and we are already seeing the system crack and crumble, and we’re not too far away from total breakdown and school life crashing to a halt once more.

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In WhatsApp groups and text messages, I’ve been kept up to date with the situation in primary and secondary schools throughout South Yorkshire thanks to the many friends and former colleagues who are now spread out around the county.

My phone has been constantly beeping with bad news since term began. First a tutor group sent home in a secondary school, then an isolated bubble from a primary kept away for 14 days after positive tests.

Just a few days later we heard of a secondary school sending two entire year groups home to self isolate, and the sixth form of a Sheffield school followed on the same day.

Staff at several schools have tested positive, leaving headteachers fearful of an outbreak amongst adults that would leave it impossible to keep school running.

And the bottom line is this – even after a few days in school, it is crystal clear that not enough is being done to keep schools open.

Every single teacher I know is desperate for schools to keep running as best they can, and it is of course crucial for the economy and mental wellbeing of all involved.

But extra funding is needed right now for cleaning equipment, and a good dose of common sense is also needed if it’s to happen.

Firstly, let’s dispel the myth that kids are being kept in year group bubbles. They aren’t.

Some schools are having a decent crack at keeping year groups apart, and credit is due to them, but there are too many secondary school children who are still having to change rooms.

They are wandering around the school to their next lesson, passing children from other year groups in the corridor and sitting at desks that have not been cleaned since the previous class.

Most secondaries are now insisting that all student wear masks in corridors when passing by different year groups, but what good does this do if they are using computers and desks that older and younger have touched earlier in the day.

There is still, unbelievably, a feeling that teaching and learning needs to be driving the school’s approach at this crucial time and I’ve even heard leaders talk of preparing for OFSTED.

We are a million miles away from either of these things being a priority. If we do not get school bubbles operating correctly and cleaning routines sorted during the working day, we are going to be looking at months and months of stop-start education and another year damaged by exam disaster.

The teaching element of the working day is still important, but it has to be accepted that wiping down desks and sanitising hands is more important at this time than assessment and judging progress.

Every desk should have a pack of sanitary wipes on it, every child should be cleaning it at the start and end of every lesson and cleaning hands should be the new starter and plenary of every lesson.

There is no second chance to get this right, we have to sharpen our game immediately.

And yet common sense seems to missing from the process as well in some areas.

This week, newly qualified teachers in the city got an email letting them know the dates and locations of their training course – unbelievably they are face to face in a hotel in Sheffield.

The stupidity of this decision is beyond belief.

The consequences of these meetings could be disastrous for hundreds of children; imagine if there were an outbreak at the meeting and the teacher all went back to the dozens of schools they represent, causing shutdowns across the city.

It’s time to rethink our priorities and actually start practising the message we’ve been delivering for months – wash your hands and keep your distance.