The Guardian’s look at schools: teachers are trumped by ministers


For a showdown, the stage is set.

Under normal circumstances, the first day school starts again would have been January 4 or 5.

Instead, with the National Education Union warning its members not to attend for safety reasons, the English system is in turmoil, and principals going to court to demand that the government hand over proof of its intention to reopen elementary school in certain areas.

City councils have also endorsed a transition to online learning, such as those in Birmingham and Brighton. Similar preparations are being made by the Northern Irish and Scottish governments, and on Sunday Boris Johnson tried to blame the growing crisis for the virus mutation.

But the truth is that his government has lost the trust not only of teachers, but also of many of the broader groups of stakeholders who make up school communities (parents, local politicians, principals). Given the incredibly significant position that educational institutions play in mitigating the many harms caused by the pandemic to children, this leadership failure warrants harsh judgment.

The conservative chairman of the Education Committee, Robert Halfon, has said that vaccination programs should be reconsidered, and he is right. Teachers have a right to be protected as soon as possible, particularly in the early years and in elementary schools, where social distancing is impractical. Those in vulnerable groups should be allowed to work from home at all times. It is important to step up the bumbling distribution of laptops and tablets to those who need them.

Serious talks need to start now about alternatives to next year’s tests. The logistics, of course, are complicated. Perhaps more complicated are the policy problems (which apply to college admissions as well as exam boards and classrooms). Owing to smaller class sizes, greater access to technology, and less needy families to care for, gaps have risen tremendously over the past year as private schools, and some more affluent public schools, are able to provide more schooling online. After this disaster, how to’ move up’ is not a question to which there is a simple answer.

Will students who have fallen far behind, for instance, be able to repeat a year? In answer to such injustices, extra cash for tutoring is a drop in the bucket. Labor has given disappointingly little. Sir Keir Starmer held back on Sunday on demands for all schools to remain closed in order to prevent unplanned disruption.

But the performance of the government has been dismal, crippled by a reluctance to regard teachers and principals as the professionals they are.

As other senior figures, including the head of Ofsted, Amanda Spielman, gave moral-boosting encouragement to teachers, ministers licked from insult to about-face and back again after the fiasco of last summer’s failed attempt to score tests with an algorithm, Last month, as they took legal action against Greenwich Borough Council for attempting to close schools early, this approach by ministers reached its nadir, only to conclude that the plan was the correct one because almost 3% of 11- to 16-year-olds had fallen ill. The bossing around and intimidation that led to the present stalemate should not be blamed solely on the miscast education secretary, Gavin W W. Since 2010, Nick Gibb has been Minister of schools. Former Secretary of Education Michael Gove is among the most influential men in the world, and before he went to Downing Street, Dominic Cummings worked for him. At the heart of the government was the pandemic school program. The increased attention over the past year to social vulnerabilities has been widely noted.

It has never been more apparent that this entails a government stuck in a dismissive mindset towards state education in England.

Mr. Gove referred to teachers and unions as “the blob.” notoriously and rudely.

But it is ministers who have proven incapable of intelligently reacting to difficult circumstances. We can only hope that the new year will be a lesson to teach them.


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