At the time of writing, it’s just been announced that Boris Johnson, Britain’s now (theoretically) COVID-resistant Prime Minister, will announce details of our country’s formal plan for exiting lockdown this coming Sunday.

We’re certainly not out of the woods yet, but perhaps we can now at least start to hope that a return to something approaching normal life is on the not too distant horizon.

It’s one sad detail among many at the moment, but it’s been sobering to discover how many businesses are on course to disappear from our high streets. Big, well-known names like Debenhams, Top Shop and Laura Ashley could conceivably be around for not much longer, and I’ve seen it reported that a whopping 18% of small- to medium-sized businesses won’t be able to financially sustain themselves for the duration of a three-month lockdown.

It’s yet another reminder of just how different life will be once we finally open our front doors and step out into the world again. Though for all those worries and concerns, I’m happy to admit that the thought of finally being allowed to hug our families and friends once more brings tears to my eyes.

Into the plunge pool

These questions of what returning to full-time work will be like for the nation – and particularly those in the teaching profession – have been occupying my thoughts a great deal this week, as I continue exchanging work with students remotely.

As we entered our sixth week of official lockdown, confined to our homes and each doing our bit to tackle this pestilence, I found myself wondering whether returning to full-time work would feel like leaving a sauna and jumping into the icy waters of a cold plunge pool. Teachers already know how tough returning to the classroom after the six-week summer break can be, and how many of us can be virtually on our knees once November rolls around.

Adapting to the slower pace of life that the lockdown affords has helped me properly appreciate just how relentless the pace of work our profession demands really is. Every hour sees us rushing from one thing to the next – living, teaching, instructing, advising and communicating at all hours of the working day. We’ll talk, sometimes solidly, for a good five or six hours per day, then rush home to frantically plan for the next day’s round of continual chatter. We’re required to deliver lessons to a hugely diverse array of children from a range of different classes, cultures, races and religions, and diligently mark the reams of writing the government now expects students to produce.

Of course, we’re far from the only profession that’s expected to regularly interact with the public in such an intense way. The police, the Armed Forces, our wonderful doctors and nurses, the Fire Service – in different ways, they’re all required to maintain insane levels of operation too. In certain respects, the teaching profession functions at the same level of speed as our fantastic Emergency Services, day in, day out.

Six months away

That’s why the government has to give due consideration to how staff should be eased back into full-time teaching. From my current vantage point, I think there’s an argument for students to return before the summer break. If schools remain closed to all but vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers until September, the majority of students and teachers will have been absent from classrooms for a total six months, not just six weeks. 

Then there’s the matter of our Y10 students, and the prospect of them being made to sit exams despite not having completed a full course of study at KS4. How can they, when six months have been lost?

I can only hope that somewhere within the DfE’s plans for reintegration, some thought will have been given to how those Y10 papers will be marked, along with an acknowledgement that our Y10 students should be adequately compensated for their six-month learning deficit, so as not to disrupt their future learning paths after leaving school.

I believe that our Y10s will need virtually the same level of protection as their Y11 counterparts. As a profession, we’d be letting our students down by not demanding dispensation from the DfE for all those sitting exams in 2021. So let’s hope they’ve got that base covered…

Jayn Sadler is an English teacher from north Essex