Schools and the pandemic: update

Submitted by martin on 12 April, 2020 - 10:28 Author: By a Lewisham school worker
empty seats

Easter holidays

Were it not for the virus, most schools would now be in their two-week Easter break. The union nationally has been arguing that work in that time must be voluntary and that everyone should get two weeks holiday at some agreed point around the period, and in reasonable blocks, not a day here and a day there.

That is certainly happening in Lewisham and as far as I can see across London and probably further afield.

Bank Holidays

The joint advice from the unions (NEU and the two leadership unions NAHT and ASCL) said they expected schools to be closed on Good Friday and Easter Monday. However, many hospitals, Lewisham included, requested some provision.

We have pushed to ensure that the provision was only for key workers from the emergency services who had been especially drafted in for that weekend. Not for the wider-definition of key workers, as they in the main were not working additionally over the Bank Holiday, not for children with social workers as they would not normally be in school then. We seem to have won this in Lewisham and again more widely in London.

Those members who are working the Bank Holiday are doing it on a voluntary basis and we are arguing that there should be time off in lieu or additional payments, and on a more than one-day for one-day basis (i.e. at least time and a half)

Wrap around

There has been some discussion about schools providing cover from 7am to 7pm and 7 days a week. We are arguing that any additional provision should either be done by breakfast club and after-school club workers who may be looking for additional work at this time or by rotas where staff volunteer but that the shift pattern is not onerous.

Home working and the curriculum

There is increasing pressure from some school leaderships to deliver something close to the normal curriculum for pupils and students who are at home. This ranges from video-streaming/zooming etc. lessons to intricate time-tables of work being set and marked. The union nationally are arguing strongly that this is unrealistic.

There are many issues here:

The stress and distress caused to children and young people already undergoing a traumatic experience.

The exacerbation of class differences in the ability of pupils to access and get support with that work.

The significant and serious safeguarding issues about students being able to see inside staff members’ homes, or staff members being able to see inside pupils' homes, of non-regulated and non-mediated interaction between staff and pupils on the internet.

The expectation that staff will use their own mobile phones, with the cost and safeguarding issues associated.

It is wholly unrealistic to recreate the complex, collective and individual learning relationships and support remotely.

The union is also concerned about the unrealistic expectations in terms of what members are being asked to do in terms of homeworking, often in conditions which are not suitable for homeworking (young children at home who need caring for, no desk or laptop, no suitable seat for long hours at a laptop). We will be pushing more on this when the nominal two week Easter break is over.

Isolation pay

We are having some success with getting supply and agency staff to be kept on and paid sick-pay and for self-isolation. However, it is much harder with catering staff etc. employed by an outside contractor.

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