Education and Skills

It’s not just the government that wants schools open

On the eve of the A level results day – the Christmas Eve for teachers – I sat there contemplating the last 5 months, following the closure of schools on the 23rd March! The media has had a very volatile relationship with teachers, both vilifying them and praising them in equal measure, it’s any wonder that those of us who work in the education sector are exhausted, paranoid and anxious. But one overwhelming feeling teachers have, is the desperation to return our classrooms so we can continue with our jobs.
Of course each and every one of us want to feel safe, and teachers want reassurances that the classroom will be a safe place to learn and teach writes Sian Melbourne.

The science is telling us that our younger pupils will not be the ones to spread the virus, but what of our older pupils – those who will be continuing their GCSE and A-level studies? As it stands, we aren’t 100% sure of the party they have, or will play in the COVID-19 pandemic, so how safe will schools be to return?

Teachers are scared, we don’t have PPE. In Wales there is no enforcement of compulsory face mask wearing. Yet throughout the pandemic, teachers have tried to adapt to a new system of remote learning – with minimal remote learning training I might add. Teams, Zoom, Google Classroom, terms that were not regularly used until February are everyday programmes now. We can direct work to a whole class on teams, we can grade or mark work that has been ‘virtually’ handed in, we can delver a remote lesson through Zoom – yet, it’s not the same. Many pupils from remote areas are restricted by poor access to WiFi services leaving them unable to access work. Many pupils from low income families don’t have access to computers or laptops, preventing them from even communicating with their teachers. These pupils are the missed generation. I want to return to my classroom to ensure no more pupils are left behind.

In a class of 30, not everyone will understand their work immediately. Some pupils will require a little extra help in the explanation, whilst others will finish way ahead of the rest. In a class of 30, a teacher will know the wants and needs of every single one of their pupils, more importantly, we know how to react to them just by reading they facial expressions or body language. We know if the pupil has had a bad day and we’ll offer a friendly word that may be enough to get the through the day. It’s not all about the work sheet.

I cannot fault the lengths that head teachers have gone to to ensure that their schools, stand and pupils are safe. I hold high praise the school that I work in, and to my head teacher who in conjunction with the local authority, has worked tirelessly since March to ensure staff, parents and pupils have the safest possible environment to return to in September.

The government has made it clear that they need to get schools back up and running to aid the economy, to get people back to work. They are alert to a possible second wave and are monitoring the situation and looking at ways to manage the strain on the school system system, but its clear that school should be the last to come and the first to open, when designated safe to do so.

Schools do not simply teach a subject. They develop the whole child.

Sian Melbourne is a Councillor for Llanishen & Thornhill on Cardiff Council and has been a qualified teacher for 16 years.

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