‘Social media posts showed persisting lack of respect for teaching profession’

Teachers are preparing to keep schools open while lockdown returns Picture: Getty Images

Teachers are preparing to keep schools open while lockdown returns Picture: Getty Images - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

A major supermarket has announced a 10% discount for teachers. I retweet and share the post – it’s a nice gesture and clearly makes good marketing sense appealing to those with a guaranteed income in the run up to Christmas. Then scrolling through the posts, I become aware of the ‘teacher bashing’ comments that inevitably follow.

We have become used to people moaning about our holidays, working hours and guaranteed pay, usually born of ignorance or envy. A few teachers will fight back as if they have something to justify, seeking to put the ignorant straight about what life is really like for them.

I read some of their posts and I am dismayed on two fronts. Firstly the persisting lack of understanding and respect for the work of the teaching profession and secondly the way that a corporate gesture of gratitude, that has been widened out from nurses to teachers, brings out the worst in those critical of anybody that isn’t like them. Yet another sign of our divided and increasingly polarised society.

One of the reasons I write this column every month is to provide a little insight into the world of educational leadership in the hope that a bit more knowledge will bring a bit more empathy. Like many professions we are having to rewrite what we do and how we work in a pandemic.

Change is unsettling and it’s all around us both in our working and personal lives. The first half of the autumn term has been more challenging and exhausting than ever before. Despite all of the difficulties, and after five months away, school staff have made it feel alright for children to be back at school, and they can be relied upon to do that - it’s in their DNA. They will put children first - often ahead of their own safety.

Outwardly expressing hope and optimism, they will settle the most disruptive and disturbed, they will assess learning gaps, they will teach and establish the new covid-routines, they will listen to parents and they will make everyone feel reconnected and safe.

As a leader and employer, my duty of care to our staff is what keeps me awake at night. It feels like a personal responsibility and yet what I am currently asking them to do is outside of my control, dictated by the ever shifting sands of government policy. I can make sure that we follow that guidance to the letter and then it changes again.

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Last week we were told: “There is no evidence that children transmit the disease any more than adults, and no evidence that staff in education settings are at any greater risk of fatal outcomes than many other occupations.”

My ‘tracked changes’ version showed the addition of a new word in that sentence - fatal.

We know from antibody blood tests that the virus swept through all of our schools prior to lockdown in March. In that first wave we experienced fatalities of staff family members. The burden of responsibility for what might happen in the next wave is real.

The latest version of the government’s main guidance for schools is written for a new wave of increasing infection.

References to effective testing, tracking and tracing being in place and words such as ‘make the school COVID secure’ have been removed.

The ‘system of controls’ has been extended to include increased ventilation with a constant air flow and ‘purging’ between lessons now a requirement. Schools will continue to keep ‘bubbles’ of children and adults separated and we have been warned not to increase group sizes.

Miraculously, in the last eight weeks and across our fourteen schools, we have only had to isolate one small group of children. The positive test result had come from a randomised control trial - the child had shown no symptoms. A reminder that we have to behave as if the virus is everywhere and not relax our measures or controls for a moment.

My guess is that the second half of this autumn term will prove even more challenging than the first.

Many people will empathize with the risks that our school staff face and want to express their gratitude. Some will continue to ‘bash us’ for having it so good. And then I read another post, “I think we all have empathy. We may not have enough courage to display it.” #mayaangelou

• Clare Flintoff is the CEO of ASSET Education, which runs a number of schools in Suffolk.