The Guardian’s View on Schools: Ministers Outperformed by Teachers | Schools

The stage is set for a confrontation. Under normal circumstances, January 4 or 5 would have been the first day back to school. Instead, the English system is in chaos, with the National Education Union advising its members not to show up for security reasons, and school leaders go to court to demand that the government release the evidence. behind his decision to reopen the primaries in many areas.

Uncertainty surrounds plans for mass testing in high schools as schools lack both standby and training staff, while the current priority list for vaccinations could keep teachers waiting for months. Boards, including those in Birmingham and Brighton, have already switched to e-learning. The governments of Northern Ireland and Scotland have similar plans in place.

On Sunday, Boris Johnson sought to shift blame for this growing crisis onto the mutation of the virus. But the truth is that his government has lost the trust not only of teachers, but also of much of the larger group of stakeholders (parents, local politicians, leaders) that make up school communities. Given the extremely important role of educational institutions in reducing the many harms caused to children by the pandemic, this leadership failure deserves serious judgment.

Fixing things must be the top priority. Robert Halfon, conservative chair of the special education committee, said immunization plans should be reviewed, and he is right. Especially in primary and primary schools, where social distancing is not possible, teachers are entitled to protection as soon as possible. People belonging to vulnerable groups should always have been allowed to work from home. The botched supply of laptops and tablets to those in need must be stepped up. Serious discussions on alternatives to next year’s exams must begin now.

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Of course, the logistics are difficult. Even more so are policy issues (which extend to college admissions as well as exam boards and classrooms). The last year has seen a huge increase in inequality, with private schools – and some more privileged ones in the state – able to offer more distance education, due to smaller class sizes, better access to technology and fewer vulnerable families to fear. How to “level up” after this disaster is not an easy-to-answer question. Should students who have fallen significantly behind, for example, be allowed to repeat a year? Additional funding for remedial classes is a drop in the ocean.

The work, unfortunately, offered few answers to these injustices. Sir Keir Starmer stopped on Sunday before calling on all schools to remain closed, to avoid unforeseen disruptions. But the government’s performance has been dismal and hampered by the refusal to treat teachers and school leaders as the experts they are. Since the debacle of last summer’s failed attempt to score exams with an algorithm, ministers have gone from insulting to turning around and back again, as have other senior officials, including the chief Ofsted, Amanda Spielman, offered moral support to teachers. . This approach by ministers came to a head last month, when they launched legal action against Greenwich Council for proposing to close schools prematurely to decide that, with nearly 3% of 11-16 year olds infected, the plan was correct.

The patronage and intimidation that led to the current standoff cannot be blamed solely on the feet of the ill-chosen Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson. Nick Gibb has been Minister for Schools since 2010. Former Education Secretary Michael Gove is among the most powerful men in the country, and Dominic Cummings worked for him before working in Downing Street. The schools pandemic policy has been developed at the heart of government.

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The increased exposure of societal weaknesses over the past year has been widely noted. It has never been so clear that in England this was a government locked in a disrespectful attitude to public education. Mr. Gove famously and crudely described teachers and unions as “the drip”. But it is the ministers who have shown themselves incapable of reacting intelligently to difficult circumstances. We can only hope that the New Year will teach them a lesson.

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