Friday evening – the last before colleges reopened after the summer break in many areas and the eve of a long bank holiday weekend. It should be a time for pure relaxation ahead of what many suspect could be a challenging term for the profession, whether you’re teaching remotely or face to face. Suddenly, my social media notifications explode. It can only mean one thing; new guidance for schools and colleges on operating in the midst of a pandemic.
The controversial timing of this guidance from the Department for Education has been met with broad consternation across the profession. In response to the untimely notification, Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union tweeted, “How can the government think it is acceptable to leave it until now – three days before [colleges] start in September – to issue this guidance is a mystery to me. Once again, [college] leaders have been given completely inadequate notice to make major preparations.” Alison Peacock, CEO of the Chartered College of Teaching also tweeted of her disappointment that school guidance was sent out at the last minute. “Leadership teams have worked very hard to prepare for fully opening #Disrespectful.”
Across social media teachers and lecturers have been expressing their dismay that at such a late stage changes are still being implemented. At a time when the profession is usually raring to go after summer, many seem weary, nervous, demoralised and exposed. If that is you, we see you and we hear you. Relationships always matter, but this is a time when they matter perhaps more than at any other time.
Without a doubt wellbeing for all is going to need to be each and every college’s top priority, but more specifically, we need to ensure that lecturers are not put at any unnecessary additional risks. One of the biggest concerns that has been expressed to me repeatedly is by lecturers with a vulnerable family member. One said she requested some additional measures concerning ventilation in her classroom. “It became clear to me very quickly that my school leadership team was not as concerned about the virus as I was. The focus for them is getting back to normal with as little sign there has been a pandemic as possible. That’s hard to deal with when at home we are taking every precaution possible so that the most vulnerable member of our family is protected. I feel like I should take every precaution possible at school too, but that need wasn’t met with any kind of urgency. It’s a very isolating feeling.”
We are going to move towards normal at vastly different paces according to the personal toll Covid-19 has taken. If you need to have that acknowledged, we hear you!
For some, the concerns about being back in a fully operational college with face to face teaching for all pupils are so great that they are considering a change of career – something that other countries are seeing too (for example the USA). “Through no fault of my own I am having to rethink my career. We keep being told that most children will not be affected by Covid-19 but those with underlying health conditions are more vulnerable. I will not put my daughter at further risk,” one teacher told me. If you have are facing the possibility of changing your job in order to safeguard yourself or those close to you, we hear you!
We know that the vast majority of colleges will be going above and beyond in order to help everyone to feel safe in these extraordinary times. But given the genuine concerns that some lecturers have about keeping themselves and their families safe and well during the return to college, we must make sure that there are systems in place for all staff members and the parents, carers and students of a college to air concerns without risk of recrimination. This is an absolute minimum requirement if we are serious about ensuring that everyone in our education communities is happy about being back in the classroom.
Only a totally unified effort will do this academic year, regardless of whatever rhetoric might be heading the way of the education profession. Principals and senior leadership teams holding everything together? We see you, we hear you and we thank you. Lecturers, support staff, governors, volunteers, and everyone else who helps colleges to thrive, we see you, we hear you and we thank you. Parents and carers, we see you, we hear you and we thank you. Whatever the term ahead brings, whether in college, or working and learning from home, you can do this. We can do this!
Is there any aspect of lecturing, learning and life in colleges that you would like FEjobs to cover over the coming months? Let us know!
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for eTeach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.