Teachers Fear A "Chaotic" Schools Reopening: "We're In Panic Mode"

Teachers have described the “chaos” of staff scramble to make classrooms safe amid intensifying pressure and a lack of clear guidance from the government just a fortnight before schools reopen to some pupils. They also fear being “demonised” after headlines urging teachers to be like NHS “heroes” and warn of a class divide that risks letting the poorest children fall further behind their peers - undermining the principal reason ministers are pushing for a prompt return to the classrooms. The guidance gives no reasoning as to why face coverings are not recommended in schools, raising concerns for teachers who have spent months rigorously following social-distancing advice – including the new recommendations to wear face coverings – outside of the classroom.  One year four teacher, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “I wouldn’t feel comfortable wearing PPE – I’m not a doctor or a nurse and I’m not dealing with someone in a hospital bed, I’m dealing with a group who are active and jumping around in front of me.  “But at the same time I’m conflicted because I don’t want to catch it either. “It feels like a political decision rather than an actual scientific decision.”  With years of budget cuts already behind them, most teachers have grown used to having to buy their own materials – down to pens and pencils – to support their classes. “It really has gotten pretty bad, so I don’t have any faith that the government are going to be supplying PPE or extra cleaning equipment for us.” The list of recommendations for how schools could adapt to social-distancing rules is extensive, and – in the eyes of the teachers HuffPost UK spoke to – largely unachievable in a traditional classroom.  Guidance includes planning outdoor lessons, removing all soft or “intricate” hard-to-clean toys, staggering assemblies and breaks, keeping pupils in the same groups all day, propping windows and doors open for ventilation and cleaning surfaces such as bannisters, light switches, desks and chairs more regularly. With high-fives, fist bumps and other contact with pupils forming part of the daily routine, it’ll take time for children to adapt to an entirely foreign way of conducting themselves in a classroom. For my class, part of the routine was coming in and giving a high five or a fist bump and those are little things that are really important to settle them in for the day.  “That will have to change, which is doable but isn’t going to happen straight away and we don’t really have the safety net of time.”  Some teachers are not able to return for medical reasons, putting an even greater strain on school staff to teach not only their own year group through online methods, but also adapt to a new cohort of students at a stage they may never have taught before. So far, all the guidance available to teachers has been distributed at the same time it was sent out to the general public.  A year five teacher, based in north London, said: “It’s caused a lot of problems because when I’ve spoken to parents on the phone they’re asking things like ‘do you know when they’ll go back?’ and they expect us to know more.  “It’s been a nightmare for our headteacher because she’s had to answer everyone’s questions – she’s been completely bombarded on all sides; from the parents, her staff, the governors.  “The government is saying contradictory things – stating that it’s safe to go back because you can socially distance, but also ‘we understand that children won’t’.” Concerns have repeatedly been raised that more disadvantaged children without access to laptops or space to study at home are being left behind by more privileged classmates, with this argument forming a central aspect of the reasoning behind schools reopening on June 1.  But, as one teacher pointed out, reopening schools could widen this gap even further, with BAME children from disadvantaged backgrounds more likely to have underlying health issues such as asthma and therefore forced to stay at home.  Research published on Monday by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) reveals that poorer families are less likely to want to send their children back to school amid the pandemic, despite these pupils having fewer opportunities for home learning, The year five teacher added: “Something I’m concerned about is that disproportionately the children who fall under multiple categories – disadvantaged in terms of getting free school meals, are from BAME backgrounds, have special educational needs – are the children who also have underlying health conditions. Second is a national plan for social distancing and PPE provision, third is “comprehensive access to regular testing” for children and staff, fourth is “a whole school strategy” for if and when a caseis confirmed, and fifth is protection for the vulnerable – including relatives of schoolchildren who could be impacted by school-home transmission. In its most recent statement published on Friday, May 16, a spokesperson for the teacher’s union NASUWT welcomed education secretary Gavin Williamson’s comments that there would be a “cautious, phased return” to the classroom, but called for concrete guidance on health and safety measures.