opinion Politics trade unionism Worcestershire

Going Back to School: A Secondary School Student’s Thoughts

In the past few months, life has changed for all of us: socialising, work and other activities have all moved online, and schooling is no exception. Since schools have been shut teachers have worked hard to ensure students can continue to study though the setting up of work online on various platforms which they must individually complete and send back for marking and feedback. Students without internet access or a device they can easily use have been regularly sent work on paper.  

However, while this system may work for a few students, many are struggling with the process. Nothing can compete with the live reactions of students which allows teachers and staff to cater the curriculum to their class. Even more importantly is the motivation that a live teacher provides to all their students, which in turn ensures the best possible results with the limited time and resources allocated to teachers. I think the wider student body has come to realise the hard work and effort teachers and support staff put into their roles, which we can only hope continues when the 2020-21 academic year begins. The issue remains that the current system is leaving behind students who have no access to the Internet, as they are unable to access the vast information and communication methods that are required to complete their school work. 

This is why the government is saying that schools must return for the betterment of the nation’s children. Surely, however, people are better safe, healthy and alive than children spending a few additional weeks in school? There is little scientific proof to show that the re-opening of schools will not be a risk for educational staff or that the re-opening of the education sector won’t lead to an increased spread of the virus. This begs the question for a government which continually claims to follow the science: where is the evidence that children can’t carry the virus, especially when according to the Office for National Statistics (in their infection survey pilot data set released on May 14th): “There is no evidence suggesting age has an impact on the likelihood of an individual having COVID-19″? 

There are serious concerns amongst teachers and wider education staff regarding school re-opening. A Worcestershire National Education Union told Worcestershire Transformed:

 “The NEU doesn’t oppose the reopening of schools; it opposes the reopening of schools before it is safe to do so.  The date of June 1st was set three weeks ago and has acted as an arbitrary target that schools were encouraged to work towards as the first part of a phased reopening.  The union’s belief, from pretty much that point, was that schools should be allowed to decide to open when and if they could be certain that conditions would be reasonably safe.  That the issue appears to have become politicised (especially by the traditional right-wing press) is due to the fact the meeting of any target set by any government tends to become a matter of pride or honour, and the political capital gained by meeting the promise that was made (or at the very least by not missing that promise) comes to dominate the minds of those in power.        

The NEU, along with other unions, has looked closely at the government’s own ‘five tests’ for the next stage of easing lockdown, which includes beginning to reopen schools, and it is clear that at this stage at least two of them are not being met- the widespread test and trace programme and enough PPE to meet future demand, and the low enough infection rate. Beyond that, the NEU has other criteria that it thinks means schools would be safe enough to reopen. These include sufficient capacity to test and trace quickly if there is a suspected case in a school, and a guarantee that those who are vulnerable, or who live with someone vulnerable, would be able to continue to work from home.”

and that they too are concerned about the lack of science:

“The science on how dangerous schools could be is unclear- studies from different places show different outcomes- but what is clear is that if there is uncertainty about the safety of a school, Headteachers might be putting the lives of pupils, staff and all families connected to the school community in jeopardy to meet an arbitrary reopening deadline. This is a position that no Headteacher should have to find themselves in. The NEU seeks to support Headteachers in choosing to remain closed (to all but vulnerable pupils and those with Key Worker parents) until it is safe to start reopening,

When there is an effective track and trace system that we can see is working, and when local infection rates are low enough to ease concerns, then schools should and will reopen and start to undo the damage done by this pandemic, but until then the risks of a hasty reopening outweigh the potential benefits of getting limited numbers of children in school for part of each week.”

Other students and parents are worried too, many saying that they simply will not attend school unless a sufficiently safe system is in place. So, with this little faith in the government’s plans to return to school from teachers (the experts in what actually happens in a classroom), students and parents, why are they continuing to execute it? Of course, to wean Britain off its “addiction to furlough” (as working people obviously are all addicts, I assume?) and force people back to work. The plan is to not follow the data and science or allow comparable nations’ responses to guide us, but to try and ensure that Britain remains competitive with our European counterparts in order of protecting the interests of the capitalist class that runs this country. No student I have spoken to (albeit a small sample size) believes that the government is acting in their interests and that puts at risk trust in the government from the younger generations – a trust that has already been tarnished.  

To further back up the fact that this is not truly about education is that if the government really believed in fixing educational inequality in this country, they would at the very least tackle the technological deprivation among families in this country. Many students simply do not have access to a personal computer/tablet or access to the internet where they can carry out school work, communicate with teachers and research information. In this educational technological revolution children are being left behind – how is it fair that I can check my work on my phone, do my work on a computer with full keyboard, research information over the internet, print off and scan work yet other students are expected to go to a library (which are few and far between these days) to even check what homework they have due for the week? It’s not. If this government really cared about students’ education, and not just the protection of British capital, then they would give students computers on which to perform school work, and access to the internet permanently so that they can perform better at school and learn more about the world around them with less of a disadvantage. The current scheme for lockdown isn’t even working, with some Academy Trusts claiming they have received less than a fifth of the funding they need for their free lockdown laptops for poorer Year 10 students, and many will not be delivered until after schools go back.  

Once students have access to the internet and computers, we can then talk about other measures which may be more helpful to students such as Video Conferencing (I am sure companies would be lining up to be the official contractors for the UK government, getting their devices and software in front of UK students). However, I fear it is now too late for this to be facilitated, and students will suffer more than they already have, widening the educational divide in this country. This is a sacrifice we have to take in order to save lives – and one that we must urgently try to fix post-pandemic.   

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