Don’t blame the teachers by John Patton


The Tory Government’s catastrophic mishandling of COVID-19   has caused an unacceptably gross number of deaths; to date nearly 200 of them are NHS and Care workers ; the BBC Panorama programme and  the Sunday Times have exposed how unprepared  the Government was for the pandemic; when the facts became public, they lied about the amount of Personal Protective Equipment that was available,  inflating numbers by counting items such as gloves and cheap, plastic aprons individually; Boris Johnson initially took a cavalier approach to the approaching pandemic and was regularly missing from office at a time when leadership was gravely required; desperate warnings were flagged up  by NHS doctors and nurses;  Of the health care providers who have died so far, one, Abdul Mabud Chowdhury, a consultant urologist in London, had written a Facebook post appealing to Johnson to protect him and his co-workers.

I hope we are by default entitled to get this minimal support,” he wrote on March 18, five days before he was hospitalized. Johnson is responsible for his death, and for the death of every other health care worker in the country. There will be an inquiry into the handling of the crisis and already, anxious cabinet  ministers , stalking corridors of power, are sharpening their knives and considering which back will prove the most convenient recipient. My money is on the scientists landing the role of fall guys.

 But first, a stop-gap is required and the teaching profession is being lined up for their inflexibility. Attacking teachers in State schools and their unions is instinctive for many conservatives. Not a single member of Johnson’s Cabinet has a child currently being educated in a State school. No English public school will re-open for pupils before September. Teachers want to work; their fundamental motivation is helping pupils to learn and evidence abounds of the flexibility of their approach to the task; they take large groups and small ones; handling constantly changing technology on poorly resourced budgets; dealing on a daily basis with children from varied backgrounds- their confidence and insecurities, their innocence and cunning, openness and distrust, generosity and greed, liberality and prejudice. There is no group in society for whom it is more of an imperative to plan for the future than teachers. That is the essence of their job – preparing future citizens.

Government inspired smears, delivered by a hostile press and Twitter accounts, operating out of Tory HQ, have lambasted teachers for their reluctance to put themselves and children at risk from June 1st in a half-baked and deeply troubling return to school plan. Media distortions have suggested that the English teaching force has been on holiday since March. Lies. Schools have been open to provide learning facilities for the children of key workers and all teachers have been working to provide home school work for their pupils. For the foreseeable future, new ways of delivering learning from nursery to university have to be developed; a mix of classroom teaching and online learning will be the key ingredients. Teachers are already working on the building blocks of the system. The Westminster Government and, in particular, the Department of Education, have shown little appetite for developing a future model. The manner in which the reopening of schools was announced on a Sunday evening television address by a bumbling Prime Minister underlines that.

The contrast with Scotland and its management of the process could not be more stark. Announcing the easing of restrictions and a phased return for pupils to school from end of August, First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said,

‘It can only happen in genuine partnership with parents,  teachers and trade unions.’

Solving difficulties by consensus is the most likely route to lasting outcomes. /

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