Teachers at breaking point – over Covid restrictions

Head teachers march on Downing Street against funding cuts – they are now angry at government lack of planning over Covid

THREE education unions wrote to the Tory Education Secretary Gavin Williamson yesterday expressing ‘anger and dismay’ at the way the government has treated school and college leaders.

Their letter highlights the fact that, a week before the beginning of term for some schools and no more than 14 working days for most, school and college leaders still have little idea of the government’s Covid management plans for September and how they will be expected to run their settings.

It also raises growing concern among school and college leaders that the burden of public health responsibilities they are currently carrying may actually increase next academic year.

It reads: ‘We appreciate that we continue to be in a dynamic and fast-moving situation, and that many of these decisions need to be taken across government. We do not accept, however, that it is appropriate to continue to treat school and college leaders with what is, frankly, starting to feel like contempt.’

The letter is signed by the General Secretaries of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), and the National Education Union (NEU).

Meanwhile, the University College Union (UCU) used the occasion to demand a pay rise for staff.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘Today’s (A-Level) results are a reflection of the hard work and dedication of both students and staff after an incredibly difficult year.

‘Sadly, in spite of these efforts, college employers only saw fit to offer staff a 1% pay rise, which is actually a significant real-terms pay cut. They need to think again and demonstrate they value their workforce otherwise we will see sustained strike action at colleges across England come autumn.

‘University employers also need to put the same faith in staff that this year’s university applicants have, and pay them fairly. A below inflation pay offer cannot be justified with record numbers of students entering higher education this year.’

Commenting on the A-Level results yesterday, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the NEU, said: ‘We congratulate all students and teachers on their resilience and dedication throughout an extraordinary year.

‘Today’s results were achieved amidst unprecedented levels of disruption and adversity, but students can rest assured that they have been judged according to the work they have actually done.

‘Each student has received a grade which was arrived at using evidence of their own work, rather than relative to the work of others or through a high-stakes one-off exam. We are pleased that Ofqual has been so forthright in reiterating this.

‘Gavin Williamson may commend teachers today, but his praise comes too late – and rings hollow. Late and incoherent guidance on how they should submit grades resulted in increased workload and stress for teachers as well as uncertainty for students.

‘Government has taken school and college staff for granted and ignored their calls throughout this pandemic, maintaining the silence of a monk for much of it. This cannot and must not continue.’

Dr Patrick Roach, General Secretary of the NASUWT teachers’ union, said: ‘Whilst schools have done a tremendous job in picking up the pieces left of ministers’ last-minute decision-making, many teachers were left running on empty with teacher workload at breaking point at the end of last term.

‘We cannot afford a repeat of this confusion and chaos for yet another year.’