They’re playing politics with children’s lives – and letting down our heroic teachers, too, writes young persons’ welfare campaigner MOLLY KINGSLEY
The work of teachers has never been tougher or more important than it is right now, under lockdown. The vast majority of them are doing everything they can to provide education under impossible circumstances.
With millions of pupils forced to stay at home while classrooms remain open for some children of key workers, teachers have never needed our backing and support more.
But their noble intentions are being betrayed by the actions of their own unions who continue to throw obstacles in their way.
It’s a desperately sad situation. Following calls by the teaching union NASUWT to avoid live video lessons unless there are measures in place to prevent privacy breaches, some schools this week blocked the use of video-call software such as Zoom, claiming that it was invasive for children to see into teachers’ homes.
This is devastating for the millions of children now grounded in lockdown; and, once again, the poorer state school children will be worst hit.
Managing a class via a laptop is a daunting challenge. I’ve seen it described as ‘tougher than rocket science’ – and with two young primary aged children of my own I’m inclined to agree (stock image)
The union seems to be discovering obstructions for the sake of short-term political gain. And it is putting children at risk.
Couldn’t digital backgrounds be easily set – inserting a blue sky, for instance, instead of a view of the room? Or using a curtain or a blank wall behind the teacher? If all else fails, switch off the camera and do the lesson with audio only.
The point is that there are multiple solutions for a problem which need not exist and which parents can only surmise is a stumbling block created deliberately to hold up education.
It leaves a very bitter taste that the pandemic is being exploited by politicised unions to cause maximum difficulty to the Government, with children ending up as the collateral damage.
Union leaders were openly gloating last week at the prospect of a mass school shutdown, with the National Education Union [NEU] crowing ‘You did it!’ in an email to its 500,000 members.
They seemed to think that teachers would be delighted at the disruption to lessons, with exams cancelled and damage to the future prospects of millions of children.
That doesn’t reflect the can-do spirit of the many teachers I know, nor those we hear from at the campaign group I co-founded for children’s welfare. Indeed, large numbers wrote last week telling us they were horrified by the tone of that email.
It leaves a very bitter taste that the pandemic is being exploited by politicised unions to cause maximum difficulty to the Government, with children ending up as the collateral damage. Pictured: Britain’s Education Secretary Gavin Williamson
There seems to be a growing gulf between these teachers and the unions, to the point where one wonders how many of their members bodies like the NEU still represent.
The very unions that have demanded a return to remote learning in lockdown are now doing all they can to make it impossible for teachers to do even that job well. And in doing so, they risk allowing children’s education to disintegrate into oblivion.
Managing a class via a laptop is a daunting challenge. I’ve seen it described as ‘tougher than rocket science’ – and with two young primary aged children of my own I’m inclined to agree. It’s tricky enough to keep the attention of primary schoolchildren at the best of times.
Doing that through a screen demands real dedication and skill, and I have great admiration for teachers who are managing to do it. Many teachers are also having to provide face-to-face lessons for children who cannot remain at home – either because the pupils’ parents are key workers, or because they come from vulnerable backgrounds.
The unions ought to be doing all they can to support teachers in this. Instead, they are undermining the teachers’ efforts, even protesting that there are ‘too many’ children of key workers in schools.
Parents must not blame individual teachers – it is not their fault –but they have a right to be angry: children have become political footballs and are being let down by those who do not have their interests at heart. The conflict pits teachers against schools at a time when, more than ever, they need to be working together.
By playing political games in the midst of a national emergency, the unions have exposed their members to public anger. There are now, perhaps unsurprisingly, calls for school staff to be placed on furlough if they cannot provide lessons.
How much better it would be if the union leaders were instead urging the Government to find bonus payments to reward teachers who, in these trying times, find innovative ways to deliver first-class lessons. I’d support that, and I’m certain millions of other parents would too.
We’d all be working together, united to do the best for our children.
And that’s the issue. Children ought to be paramount in all this but instead they are the silent victims.
Alarming statistics now reveal that suicide is the foremost cause of death among five-to-19 year-olds. Children who might suffer no symptoms of coronavirus at all are deeply vulnerable to the anxiety, loneliness and cruelty of lockdown.
Everything possible must be done to ensure the safety of individuals. But that concern has to be extended to children too. Their welfare, education and health matters above all. Pictured: Students take a Covid-19 test at Oasis Academy in Coulsdon, Surrey
They are missing out on all the benefits of school that we took for granted: the friendships, the physical play, the social experience. These things are formative for young minds and personalities.
Of course teachers who do not feel safe in a classroom right now should not feel compelled to attend. Everything possible must be done to ensure the safety of individuals. But that concern has to be extended to children too. Their welfare, education and health matters above all.
Schools simply must return in full by the end of the February half-term at the latest. There is no Plan B. The longer this continues the more likely it looks that an entire year of education could simply have to be scrapped.
No one wants to put all children back by 12 months by restarting in September – but if schools charged with delivering children’s education are in effect blocked from doing so there may be no other option.
The chaos that would cause is too terrible to contemplate. We have to find another solution.
That could mean recognising schools as essential services, like healthcare and the provision of food – or, as Matt Hancock has said, considering the case for teachers to be prioritised in the vaccine queue.
There are undoubtedly complex ethical issues to be considered. However for the sake of our children, all involved must find a solution.
They, too, are vulnerable, and those who play politics with their education risk harming them beyond repair.
Molly Kingsley is the co-founder of UsForThem, a campaign group for children’s welfare.
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