Why teachers like me are demoralised; my message to Nadhim Zahawi as schools reopen amid Omicron outbreak – Rob Potts

AS my colleagues and I opened the school gates this week, we were met with a sea of smiles as the children returned for the first time since Christmas.

Teachers are increasingly disillusioned as the new term begins amid a surge in Omicron cases.

If Ofsted could gauge the success of a school on this basis of how happy the children are to attend, I’m pretty confident that we’d be in line for another ‘outstanding’ judgment.

The data would back this up too: 90 per cent of our students and 98 per cent of our staff were present for the first day back, despite many being forced to isolate over the festive period. The simple fact is that at our school – and many others up and down the country – we were happy to be back.

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Beneath that warm swell of happiness there was also an undercurrent of relief. For many of our most vulnerable children, the festive period is a time of heightened anxiety and despair when the huge divisions in our society are most keenly felt by the less fortunate.

teachers are said to be increasingly disullusioned as the new term begins.

For these children, school isn’t just a place to learn; it’s the one place where they feel safe, are fed and kept warm and where they feel valued and cared for. It’s for that reason, when faced with the prospect of another lockdown, so many of my colleagues in the teaching profession willingly accept the risk of Covid if it means being able to fulfil our primary purpose of keeping our children safe.

So why is it that so many teachers have returned to work without being buoyed by Christmas cheer? The simple answer is that many people who work in education continue to feel disregarded, under-appreciated and disrespected.

Whilst our health service continues to be underfunded and under-resourced, it is at least politically expedient to laud the work of “our NHS”.

Our teachers, however, don’t even benefit from this lip service. Instead we are urged to soldier on and promised that a ‘Dad’s Army’ of retired teachers will be ready to hold the fort if the infection rate continues to rise (our government continues to have a fondness for wartime rhetoric in times of national crisis).

Teachers are increasingly disillusioned as the new term begins amid a surge in Omicron cases.

Unfortunately, what we don’t get is any form of meaningful support. There’s no suggestion that the increased cost of supply staff will be met by the Government and the promise of an extra 7,000 air purifiers to cover 300,000 classrooms has quite rightly been labelled as “woefully inadequate”.

Despite being in the jaws of a global pandemic, our schools still have the prospect of Ofsted inspections hanging over them, as well as the unnecessary distraction of SATs for primary schools. Moreover, as we approach a third Covid-affected exam season, there’s still uncertainty over what format post-16 and post-18 examinations will take this year.

If education and assessment were the only two things that teachers had to be concerned with this situation would be bad enough but the one thing that the past two years should have taught us is that our schools provide a much greater service to society than that.

During first lockdown in 2020, Marcus Rashford might well have grabbed the headlines but ultimately it was our teachers and support staff who were working tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that our most disadvantaged children continued to be fed and cared for.

Many schools, like my own, established food banks and worked with local businesses to fill a hungry gap left by the state.

As well as adapting to online learning, many of our teachers continued to teach face to face in order to ensure that the children of other ‘key workers,’ along with those deemed ‘most vulnerable’, could still be educated and kept safe. Despite having to juggle their own family commitments at home, many others travelled door to door, dropping off study packs, checking on welfare and providing support and encouragement.

While more still used their phones and laptops to provide daily contact with our children and their families during a time that placed an immense burden on the mental health of the entire nation.

Nobody in our profession is interested in performative gestures; we certainly don’t desire the pantomime of a nation standing on the doorstep applauding each Thursday night any more than our colleagues in the NHS did.

But what we would like – just occasionally – is some appreciation of our wider contribution to society. And what we really need is the ability to focus on our core purpose without the threat of unwanted distractions. Under the current circumstances, it’s not that much to ask.

Rob Potts works at Parklands Primary School in Seacroft and is the author of The Caring Teacher – How to make a positive difference in the classroom (John Catt Educational Ltd).

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