Teachers ‘unsupported’ as Covid outbreaks continue to blight schools

Almost half of teachers report testing positive last term, according to union survey

Almost half of teachers report testing positive last term, according to union survey

Almost three in 10 teachers say their school declared a Covid outbreak last term, and around half reported having tested positive since January.

A survey of more than 4,000 members of the NASUWT teachers’ union found that 29 per cent of members reported that their school had been forced to close or send pupils home since the beginning of the year.

But almost four in 10 teachers surveyed said they did not know whether their school had an outbreak management plan in place. Over half of those who did know said they were not consulted.

The NASUWT survey results are the latest evidence that schools continue to face widespread disruption as a result of Covid-19.

Schools Week revealed last week that year 11 pupils were still missing more than one in 10 lessons last month. The latest government attendance data showed almost one in 10 teachers were absent as of mid-March.

Of the teachers who responded to the NASUWT survey, 48 per cent said they personally had tested positive since January.

Teachers left ‘vulnerable’

It comes after the government removed almost all Covid mitigations in schools. Settings no longer have access to free Covid tests, and those who test positive are encouraged, rather than legally obliged, to stay at home.

NASUWT’s survey found three in 10 teachers had faced difficulties in accessing tests, while around 26 per cent said they had faced pressure to attend work despite having symptoms.

Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of NASUWT, said teachers had been “left vulnerable and unsupported since Covid-19 mitigations have been removed”.

“Without access to free tests and additional safety measures, schools will struggle to protect staff and maintain continuity of provision for pupils.

“It is vital that appropriate action is taken swiftly to ensure that schools continue to operate safely and that teachers are supported rather than bullied when they are ill.”

Almost 60 per cent of those surveyed said their school had managed the Covid-19 pandemic well.

But in terms of their wider health and safety, just 51 per cent said this was well-managed, while 28 per cent said it was not.

Teachers warn of Covid mental health ‘timebomb’

It comes as teachers gave emotional testimony to the union’s annual conference in Birmingham about the impact the pandemic has had on the mental health of teachers.

A recent survey by NASUWT found 91 per cent of teachers said their job had adversely affected their mental health, with the “rapid dependence” on remote learning a leading contributor for 72 per cent of those surveyed.

Zoe Lynch, a delegate from Wolverhampton who is clinically vulnerable and was told to shield during the first lockdown, said she was “not prepared mentally for what was to come”.

“What followed we all had different and difficult experiences of. For me it was isolation, shielding at home with my partner, no contact with my loved ones, online lessons, responding to emails, etc.”

After Christmas 2020, the government announced another lockdown and closed schools to most pupils again.

“I remember that announcement saying we’re going back into another one,” Lynch said.

“That horrible memory of me crying out loud and sobbing in my living room saying I can’t do this again.”

Kathryn Downs, from Leeds, said the government “thinks that the impacts from Covid-19 is completely gone…everyone’s back to normal in schools”.

“But as a mental health first aider I’m actually finding my workload from that is increasing. I have more and more and more staff who are coming through every day who are struggling with the impact of the things they dealt with in the pandemic.

“We need to recognise that two, three, four years down the line we are still going to be dealing with that time bomb from the mental health aspect of our teachers.”

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