Coming out of the lockdown-style restrictions that were necessary to tackle the coronavirus pandemic was never going to be easy. While life can be shut down overnight, any return to anything resembling normality must necessarily be gradual and methodical – this much we know from the scientists. Many people have been critical of how late the restrictions were imposed back in March, and many now are critical of the speed and nature of the restrictions being lifted.
While businesses and the economy grapple with operating as profitably as possible during a pandemic, colleges have faced some seemingly impossible challenges of getting as many pupils as possible back into the classroom. Not only that, but they have also been following the latest guidance on distancing, and ensuring as far as is possible during a pandemic where the number of new cases each day is still (at the time of writing) in the thousands rather than hundreds or lower, that staff and pupils are safe.
If you are looking at the possibility of a return to face to face work in a college after isolating as a person who is particularly vulnerable to covid-19, you may well have concerns about whether it is actually safe for you to do so. This is completely understandable. Relatively little is known about this virus and its mutations, and although the evidence around whether children pass the virus to adults is growing, colleges must still consider adult to adult infection. For a teacher or other member of a college’s staff with a pre-existing condition that does not ordinarily hamper their ability to do their job, but which, when combined with this coronavirus, could prove challenging, there are bound to be concerns.
Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union is concerned about the need for caution. "The NEU is clear that staff who are in clinically vulnerable groups, or who live with or care for household members in clinically vulnerable groups, should not be required to return to the workplace and should instead be allowed to continue to work from home. Similarly, staff who are at significantly greater risk, for example because of age, ethnicity or sex, or a combination of these factors, should be allowed to make their contribution from home."
If you are concerned about making a return to work during the coronavirus pandemic, these sources of support may help:
- Your GP, senior leaders at college, union and the Education Support Partnership may all be able to support you and address any concerns you have about a return to face to face work.
- The National Education Union has advice for schools and colleges regarding the safety of staff at higher risk
- The Education Support Partnership has a self-help survival guide full of tips and strategies to help cope with anxiety that may arise as a result of concerns about a return to college.
- Education Support Partnership also has a video of strategies for managing anxiety too.
- Education Support Partnership tips on kindness may also be helpful for this stage in the pandemic.
- See FEjobs' blogs on helping your COVID-19 anxiety here.
With a new virus, the learning curve is steep and ongoing. No one could deny that messages have at times been confused and confusing, which tends to focus our minds on the core pieces of information that we need. For anyone who is particularly vulnerable when it comes to working face to face with others during the Covid-19 pandemic, that core message must be to seek the advice of your primary healthcare provider (usually your GP). While no one can sensibly guarantee safety, it may be possible to further mitigate risk for the clinically vulnerable and, perhaps most importantly, help everyone to feel safe and supported at work. Just know that if you are worried, your GP, college and union can help.
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.