A new report from the Chartered College of Teaching has gathered evidence from around the world and must inform any decision about how schools are reopened, writes Alison Peacock
The widespread closures of schools to all but children of key workers and vulnerable children are unprecedented and the impact on our pupils, teachers and schools has been – and will continue to be – immense. Despite all of this, our profession has met these challenges head-on, with calm and positivity.
While we all continue to manage the current challenges, conversations regarding recovery planning and the future of teaching are picking up speed. How do we prepare our schools and staff for the end of lockdown? How do we manage social distancing? There are no easy answers. However, these discussions must involve the whole profession.
It is right that the Department for Education has organised opportunities for unions and for the Chartered College as teachers’ professional body to come together to discuss a wide range of issues related to the pandemic and the future. Collaboration and consideration of the views of the profession balanced with scientific advice present huge dilemmas. However, it is reassuring that at this time of crisis we are all called upon to work together in a meaningful and collegiate manner.
Reopening cannot be rushed and risk a second wave of infections
We know that the government will very shortly publish its ‘roadmap’ out of lockdown. Ahead of this, we have sent the DfE, and made publicly available today, a review of research evidence on the potential impact of the closures and reopening. While information is constantly changing, new research does offer some key findings from around the world relating to school closures, their impacts on staff, and approaches to reopening. Any decision must be steered by scientific advice and take this emerging evidence base into consideration.
There are still questions relating to the role of children and young people in the community spread of COVID-19 with no definitive answer. Any planning for reopening needs to take into account the age-related differences in a student’s ability to understand and comply with social distancing measures. Schools will need time to consider the practical implications of social distancing measures and how these may need to differ according to age groups. Reopening cannot be rushed and risk a second wave of infections.
While the approaches to school reopening have varied across the world, staggered returns – currently being proposed – have been favoured to limit the number of students on school premises at any given time. Elsewhere, some of the most affected countries in Europe, such as Italy and Spain, have made the decision to not reopen schools for the general population before September.
We cannot expect our staff to resume school teaching as if nothing has changed and continue as normal, even when it is safe for schools to reopen. We must look at the training and guidance they will need to support students who may have suffered bereavement, stress or trauma. Likewise, parents will need support to monitor the mental wellbeing of their children, to recognise stress and to help them to develop resilience. They may also need support with their own, and while this stretches the role of teachers well beyond education, lockdown has surely taught us how reliant communities are on their schools for support and advice.
We have also experienced our own challenges during the lockdown; we must not overlook the physical and mental wellbeing of our teachers. Working with grieving or traumatised individuals, often without the necessary specialised training, can further impact the mental health of staff. This is where the whole school community needs to come together in the spirit of collegiality. Peer and professional support will have an important role to play to ensure teachers can manage the challenges ahead. It is more important than ever that our teachers do not feel isolated, and have access to support networks.
Our full report looks in-depth at the picture that has emerged across the world from the current pandemic but also evidence from past crises. As the situation continues to develop and more evidence emerges, we will continue to update our findings and hope the government takes them into account.
Perhaps most important of all, we need to ensure staff are consulted to ensure that any approach to reopenings takes into account the practicalities of schools. Our profession is working incredibly hard to support children, young people and families at this time of crisis. They deserve our full support.