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COVID in schools – How can we get through it?

This difficult school year has so far been full of contradictions and compromises, workplace risks and year group bubbles, reflects Vic Goddard – but we can get through it together...

  • COVID in schools – How can we get through it?

I’m writing this at the end of an incredibly difficult half term for everyone working in schools.

It would be accurate to say that we’re approaching the end of a term in which schools have done everything they can to deliver education to our young people in as safe an environment as they could possibly create.

The biggest challenge we’ve had to face hasn’t been putting procedures in place to protect staff – we’re teachers, after all, and hence good at organising systems.

No, the biggest challenge has been trying to rationalise the contradictions in government guidance which mandate certain measures within most workplaces that schools apparently don’t need to observe.

Teaching during coronavirus

I think the whole country now clearly understands the importance of the education profession to the wider economy, as well to the mental health and wellbeing of our children, and that’s before you even get to the importance of the education itself.

Needless to say, however, education staff aren’t immune to the anxiety of potentially taking home the virus to loved ones, or indeed the sadness of being unable to visit elderly relatives out of concern for their safety. This makes the achievements of last half term all the more remarkable.

There’s little doubt that school staff are being asked to compromise their own safety in order to do the job. Current safety advice is to avoid being inside buildings with over 1,000 other people; by simply continuing to perform our roles, we in the teaching profession are accepting this compromise, but there are limits.

The present term will finish shortly before Christmas. The prospect of remaining in school right up until a few days before Christmas will likely entail yet more compromises with our families.

I don’t want this to read as a big ‘woe is us’ moan. I do, however, want us to be proud of what we’re doing as part of the national effort.

Most of us will have decided to become teachers in order to make a difference in the communities we serve; having such a purpose is a privilege right now, when so many others are worried for their jobs and how they’re going to pay the bills.

Education staff are very much on the frontlines of this pandemic, and it’s important that those in power recognise that.

How headteachers are dealing with Covid-19

Much has been said lately about the pressures bearing down on headteachers, but I’m not sure this is the right focus. Staying up to date with a vast volume of rapidly changing information is difficult, of course, and hardly helped by the government’s timings, but that’s not what keeps me awake at night.

The bottom line is that whilst I have staff who are willing to make the compromises being asked of them, everything else is achievable.

If we stop to think about how we’d cope without any site, kitchen or office staff, we can clearly see how crucial this interdependence is in order for schools to operate.

Cooperation across all staff is the single biggest factor in determining how successful we’ll be in dealing with the current situation – not the number of sanitiser stations we have or the size of our bubbles.

Quite rightly, our professional associations are raising concerns about the levels of risk and workload we presently face, and hopefully they’ll be successful in speaking up on our behalf.

However, this doesn’t diminish the job we have to do for the country. There aren’t the words to express my gratitude, and that of school leaders across the country, to staff in all roles across our schools. The coming half term isn’t going to be any easier – so good luck, and be well.

Vic Goddard is headteacher at Passmores Academy – as seen on Channel 4’s Educating Essex – and the author of The Best Job in the World (Independent Thinking Press, £14.99).

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