‘It doesn’t feel safe’: Reopening of primaries causing ‘confusion and stress’

Primary school teachers have said they feel “let down”, as uncertainty continues around the reopening of England’s schools.

Reduced staffing numbers and the safety of vulnerable students is said to be causing “confusion and stress” among school staff, with teachers voicing concerns over balancing support for pupils and the risk to their own health.

The National Education Union (NEU) has provided template letters — under section 44 of the Employment Rights Act — for those who feel too unsafe to return to work.

Teachers at Kempsey Primary School in Worcestershire said they are “in limbo”, as they remain unsure if the Government will close schools to all pupils except the children of key workers.

Newly qualified teacher (NQT) Jess Simpkin said she comes into contact with 90 different families every single day in her “bubble”.

“We don’t know what those families have been doing,” she said.

Year 4 teacher Tom Dalton told the PA news agency: “You hear so many things, and the fact this new strain is so much more transmittable from children, which immediately rings alarm bells that school is not a safe place to be because you have got 30 children in a quite confined space.

“If I’m wearing my teaching hat I am thinking, we have got to deliver the best quality education we can for these children. However, if I am thinking more from a selfish personal point of view, it’s really worrying being here.

Coronavirus – Mon May 18, 2020
Tom Dalton said he ‘didn’t feel safe’ with schools reopening (Jacob King/PA)

“It doesn’t feel safe being here.”

He added: “I have got a job to do. Everyone is playing their part in the country. We have got to play our part as much as it puts us at risk and it is scary.”

Boris Johnson urged parents to send primary-age children back to school on Monday, insisting that education was a “priority”.

Kempsey currently remains open, with a teacher training day taking place today and children expected to return tomorrow.

Megan Crosby, a Year 1 teacher, said: “I would be surprised if I had a full class tomorrow.

“If education and schools are going to be the last things to go, then we need to be one of the first to be vaccinated.”

Head teacher Bryony Baynes said: “A lot of my staff are young, if the Government sticks to (the vaccination) plan, they won’t get their vaccinations for months and months.

“And how is that right?”

She refuted claims from the Prime Minister that the risk to teachers was “no greater” than anyone else.

“We get sneezed on, coughed on, dribbled on, sicked on, snot wiped on us,” she said.

Tomorrow the Government is asking our members and students to be in school. We want learning to be online and this is why. #MakeSchoolsSafe to #ProtectCommunities

250,000 have signed our petition, 400,000 watched our Zoom call and many thousands more have joined us today. pic.twitter.com/qcxLmAyr1l

— National Education Union (@NEUnion) January 3, 2021

“We have that on a daily basis —  in a secondary school or further education, you can maintain that 2m distance because those children understand. But four, five, seven-year-olds? They don’t get it.”

Another primary school teacher in Bristol said the most recent school term had been “horrendous” and that she had begun taking medication due to anxiety.

“I’ve nearly quit teaching multiple times and the potential of having a skeleton staff, so no support with behaviour or no teaching assistant, is slightly terrifying,” she said.

“I’m moderately vulnerable and have an individual risk assessment so I’ve said I’ll come in if they reduce contact with parents and no mixing of adults in my bubble.”

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