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The government doesn’t respect our teachers - and neither do we

PUBLISHED: 18:00 03 June 2020 | UPDATED: 19:20 03 June 2020

An empty classroom during the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: Getty Images/iStockPhoto

An empty classroom during the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: Getty Images/iStockPhoto

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Last week, a consortium of Norfolk headteachers wrote an open letter to parents denouncing suggestions that they were “being lazy” over school re-openings to non-keyworker children.

Jim Adams, co-chair of Educate Norfolk which last week wrote an open letter to parents ahead of schools opening to more pupils. Picture: Nick ButcherJim Adams, co-chair of Educate Norfolk which last week wrote an open letter to parents ahead of schools opening to more pupils. Picture: Nick Butcher

According to Jim Adams, co-chair of Educate Norfolk, this intervention was in response to the assumption that teachers “didn’t want to go into work” and that they are “against full school re-openings”.

This “teachers as shirkers narrative”, while convenient for a government desperate to resume business as usual, couldn’t be further from the truth - not least because teachers have been in school this entire time.

And given the pressures of maintaining pupil safety during the pandemic, the reality is that many teachers have been lumped with a higher workload than usual.

Coming from a family of teachers and headteachers, I know that they have not stopped since lockdown began.

Melodie Fearns, headteacher at St George's Primary School in Great Yarmouth, said that whichever social distancing precautions or PPE requirements applied in the rest of society Melodie Fearns, headteacher at St George's Primary School in Great Yarmouth, said that whichever social distancing precautions or PPE requirements applied in the rest of society "didn't seem to apply to schools". Picture: Victoria Pertusa

For one thing, there’s been constant organising to ensure safety for the children who have been in attendance since March 23.

And there’s been extensive coordination of learning for children outside of school and efforts to “check in” with parents on a constant basis.

There’s also been the added stress of having to devise protective measures and source PPE entirely independently from a government who, as one Great Yarmouth headteacher suggested, seem to think “whatever applies in the rest of society doesn’t apply in schools”.

That teachers have therefore felt it necessary to defend themselves against claims they are lazy or reluctant to open schools more fully is symptomatic of a wilful ignorance of the facts by both the public and those in power.

Social distancing measures will be introduced for children returning to the classroom. Picture: Jacob King/PA WireSocial distancing measures will be introduced for children returning to the classroom. Picture: Jacob King/PA Wire

As citizens, we owe everything to the teachers who educated us. And yet we do not see the value in what they have been doing the same way we do other keyworker staff.

This issue has a long history. Despite New Labour’s “education, education, education” rallying cry, Tony Blair’s divisive policies of academisation, “performance related pay” and calls to stamp out “the culture of excuses” holding back the profession proved unwelcome to many head teachers in the early 2000s.

More recently, a ten-year Conservative government tenureship has seen teachers under-paid, under-appreciated and certainly over-worked. This has fed into the notion that teachers are “unskilled” or without value - and because of that we take the profession for granted.

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Take Michael Gove for example. Speaking live on The Andrew Marr Show a few weeks ago, the cabinet secretary suggested that those who want to delay school reopenings “do not care about children”.

This is undoubtedly frustrating for teachers because, for the most part, they absolutely love their job, care to death about the children in their supervision and only want what’s best for them.

To say anything to the contrary is nonsense.

An Ofsted report into teacher wellbeing, carried out in July 2019, showed that 98% of survey respondents enjoyed their job.

North Denes head teacher Debbie Whiting wrote an North Denes head teacher Debbie Whiting wrote an "honest and open" letter to her parents stressing the inability of her staff to guarantee a completely risk-free environment in which children could return to school. Picture: James Bass

However it also found that 68% of those same respondents felt like the profession does not receive the respect it deserves for the skills it requires.

The report also found that teachers’ wellbeing is horrifyingly low - with many stressing their inability to complete work to a high standard because of chronic underinvestment in resources, low staff pay in relation to workload, and a lack of say in frequent changes to educational policy.

In light of this, not only is the government’s “lazy teacher” narrative ignorant, but its sudden fixation with a swift school return seems completely out of kilter with the policies it has been enacting for the last ten years.

Why is the Conservative government, which has blithely become the architect of a funding crisis in schools nationwide, now trying to argue that a primary school education is vital to a child’s social and intellectual development?

And how is it that teachers, whose concerns have been dismissed for the better part of a decade, now find themselves being reminded of their importance?

Children should of course go back to school when it is safe to do so and in conjunction with expert knowledge from headteachers and governing bodies. Many schools in Norfolk and Waveney already have - if not entirely willingly.

But is it the teachers’ duty to put their lives at risk on the basis of government scapegoating? Definitely not.

They deserve a break from the relentless onslaught and media tirade. It’s time we gave them more respect.


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