Family & Education

Who’d be in a teacher’s shoes?

Staff in Jewish schools deserve our thanks for how they have coped with each Covid challenge


NEWCASTLE-UNDER-LYME, ENGLAND - JANUARY 06: Five-year-old Lois Copley-Jones, who is the photographer's daughter, watches an online phonics lesson on a laptop in her bedroom on the second day of the nationwide school closures on January 06, 2021 in Newcastle-under-Lyme, England. British MPs will vote retrospectively on approving the third coronavirus lockdown for England in a bid to curb the spread of Covid-19. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

I think there are times over the past few weeks that we have all felt we are being led by the grand old Duke of York, up to the top of the hill and down again. However, perhaps there are none that feel this more acutely than our teachers, who have had the most challenging of times over the recent “holiday period”.

School leaders had hoped to spend some time with their families over the winter holidays, but the government had different plans and instead we have spent the past weeks, night and day, discussing the educational provision for our children.

In December it was quite clear. We were going back to school on January 4 and GCSE and A-level examinations were continuing. Then came the plan for screening and the suggestion, which soon became a requirement, that every secondary school student was to be tested on site.

The idea itself was sensible but the practicalities of implementation were exceptionally challenging for heads to cope with. The result was that on Christmas Eve, school leaders were planning logistics and sending letters out looking for volunteers to assist with testing.

Just five days later, by New Year’s Eve, everything had changed. Schools were now planning for an extended lockdown and remote provision for their students, resulting in many schools holding staff meetings on New Year’s Day and the Sunday before the return to school.

Through this arduous journey it has been quite exceptional to see the strength of character and the humour that has extended across our school leaders. They have met every challenge with a fervour to ensure their students will be given the very best possible provision. They are acutely aware of the balance of providing an education, supporting the health and wellbeing of the childrenand the demands on working parents having their children isolated at home.

However, sadly perhaps the greatest challenge has been the unrelenting pressure from parents requiring provision for their children.

Perhaps due to the breadth of the government’s definition, a far larger number of pupils than previously seem to be vulnerable or have a parent who is a key worker. As a result, some of our schools are literally being filled with students.

There are sound reasons why the government has determined the need to close schools. There is growing evidence that the new strain of the virus is spreading via children at primary and secondary level. Allowing students to attend even in restricted bubbles poses a significant risk not just to the children themselves but to their families and, of course, to the teacher in the classroom.

I know that we want our children in school. However, how many of us would be willing to step into the shoes of a teacher, especially those of a pregnant lady or the spouse of a vulnerable person? Can we guarantee they will be safe? There is no other profession in this country where staff are asked to work face-to-face with other individuals without a requirement that they wear a mask and, in many cases, PPE equipment.

It is pleasing to hear that the government is finally recognising the need for teachers to be prioritised in getting the vaccine but until then they face danger every time they enter the classroom.

We are without doubt living through exceptional times and it is only by uniting and working together that we can overcome these challenges. I strongly suggest parents give every consideration before applying for provision as a child of a key worker or a vulnerable child. Please consider the safety of your family, the urgency of your need and the safety of others.

It is also time we recognised and applauded the incredible efforts of our educational providers. They may not appear to be on the front line as NHS workers are. However, there is no doubt that they are making incredible sacrifices and playing an exceptional part in the fight against Covid-19.

It is for that reason that PaJeS is launching an initiative encouraging parents and students to send us words of thanks that we will display on our website and pass on to the schools for the work they are doing. As we march up and down the hill, there is perhaps no better antidote to the challenges we face than uniting and celebrating the efforts of our dedicated professionals.

Rabbi Meyer is executive director of PaJeS

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