Today was supposed to be the first day of the spring term for most children and young people across the UK. However, covid infection rates in Surrey are at their highest since May. Secondary schools are closed to the majority of students until 18th January. Primary schools in London remain closed. Teachers’ unions are challenging government over the reopening of primary schools in other Tier 4 areas. Some families, with and without health issues, have expressed concerns about sending their children back.
Yet Surrey’s primary schools are open to all children for in-person teaching today. Why?
Schools wanting to close because of coronavirus numbers can only do so if:
- Central government authorise them to do so or
- Local government support them or
- Teachers choose not to come to work because they don’t consider their workplace safe.
So far, the first has not happened, although I’m sure the inevitable U-turn can’t be far off. The second hasn’t happened either, in contrast with other home counties local authorities such as Essex and Kent.
What about teachers deciding not to go to work? Well, this has happened, but in a patchy (and, dare I say it, un-unified) way. There are two reasons why there hasn’t been a mass walkout of teachers over this matter. Firstly, teachers are loyal to their profession and their schools. If central and local government won’t support their headteachers, individual staff members dashed well will. The second reason is more mundane: as yet there is no clarification on whether refusing to work on the school premises this week counts as strike action or not. Striking teachers don’t get paid; those with “acceptable” reasons for absence do. It’s hard to make a decision when you don’t know what the consequences are.
There you have it – primaries are open today because they have no choice. Should this matter to you if you don’t have children at primary school? The answer is yes. We all know that even though children can get coronavirus, they rarely suffer with it. But they are capable of spreading it. They could give it to their parents who might take it to the supermarket with them and spread it on public transport and anywhere else they go. Ultimately, an open school could shorten the life of someone who never has any contact with it.
Schools being open or closed gives the general public a strong message. Open schools give the message that things aren’t that bad, and there’s no need to try with hand washing and social distancing. This message is wrong – we need to keep up with the good coronavirus habits we adopted last spring, whatever the situation with schools may be.
Open schools are also a slap in the eye to businesses that have been told to close their doors. If we are getting slack about “hands, face, space,” is it because we are starting to distrust rules that apply to one sector of society but not to another? I think so.
I believe that teachers, children and parents would all prefer schools to be open, but not at coronavirus prices. Local schools are doing an amazing job, delivering education while trying to keep the school environment safe. It’s sad – and potentially dangerous – that central government’s indecision is undermining their fight against coronavirus.
- School: Unsplash