The NEU’s priority is to get clarity for teachers and school leaders. But one thing’s for certain: There’s no going back, writes Mary Bousted

These are extraordinary times. Schools across the UK are closing on Friday. We do not know when they will open again.  We do not know how the restricted opening of schools for vulnerable children and key workers’ children will operate.

GCSE, AS and A levels have been cancelled. But students will be awarded grades for those qualifications somehow, and we do not know how this will work

We do not know when schools and colleges will re-open.

And yet, throughout the developing crisis caused by COVID-19, teachers, school leaders and support staff have been heroes and continue to be. They are working tirelessly, and under enormous stress, to inform, support and educate our children. They are on the front line. They deserve our thanks, and the praise and support of the public.

The NEU will do all it can to ensure they are answered quickly

Last night’s school closure announcement creates new challenges and raises many questions, adding confusion to a building pressure-cooker feeling across the sector. Yesterday evening, I held a telephone call event with two thousand NEU members which gave me very good insight into the questions that need to be answered.

Top of the list are these:

  • What will be expected of teachers during the period of school closure? What will be their pattern of work and will it be in their school, or in hubs?
  • What can realistically be arranged for children learning at home? And what are reasonable expectations of teachers in this regard?
  • Teachers who have children want to know who will look after them when they are in schools looking after vulnerable children and those of key workers. Are teachers themselves classed as key workers?
  • What arrangements are going to be made for the assessment of students for GCSE, AS and A level qualifications? How are teachers going to be involved in these assessments and what support and training are they going to be given to get this right?
  • What national arrangements are going to be made for children who are not on free school meals but who live in poverty and suffer food insecurity? School staff ‘look out’ for these children constantly. Who will feed them? Who will ensure that they are safe in their homes?

NEU members raised many other issues, and these are only the key ones they wanted answered. On their behalf, and working constructively with the Department for Education, the NEU will do all it can to ensure they are answered quickly.

No one I spoke to was unwilling to play their part in this national emergency.

But I will say one more thing. After this, we cannot go back. We cannot go back to a toxic accountability system which makes teachers and leaders ill. And we cannot go back to a toxic examination system where all eggs are in the exam basket either if teacher assessment is being backed by the government as a valid and reliable means of awarding grades in this situation. Trusting the profession should not be conditional on crisis management.

These are remarkable times. And together we will rise to them.