We face an unprecedented level of intervention by governments into the safe running of our schools moving out of the pandemic, but practical solutions remain thin on the ground.
In our experience, the current level of intervention by governments in the day-to-day running of their schools in all of the countries we report on is unprecedented. Even in the home-schooling period, the policy has been defined by the government, but the practice has been left to the profession. In some cases, such as in Dubai, this policy came with a check on quality from the inspectorate but for others the delivery has been left to the schools.
In this rapidly evolving situation with each national government having different plans and timeframes for reopening schools, the restrictions imposed to contain the spread of the virus are often having to be implemented within a school environment. As a result, we’ve found school practices coming under government remit and their efforts to restart schools have met with varying degrees of success. The effective implementation of government proposals has depended upon their understanding of how schools work, their ability to work with all of the parties involved, such as the teaching unions, their capacity to convince parents and teachers that the practice they are defining is safe and critically, the degree to which the virus has affected the whole community.
Those governments who have got it wrong before getting it right have created considerable stress for everyone involved. Especially for those on the ground regarded as the public face of the policy who become targets for the venting of frustrations. The short time frame for implementation has not helped the situation. Governments are aware that every day that passes with home-schooling as the only source of education has a significant impact on a student’s prospects. As a result, they have found themselves forced to make snap decisions on matters that would normally take years.
Government intervention is not limited to education but covers our way of life. For example in Dubai they are celebrating at last the opening of community swimming pools to everyone and in England were we find ourselves with the bizarre situation where children can go to the Zoo or sit watching their parents have a drink in a pub garden whilst they can’t go to school.
From the reports provided by our correspondents, a list of practical issues needs to be addressed to satisfy their relative governments:
- Questions such as these are at the moment at least, incredibly difficult to address, and without solid guidance from the relevant How do you prevent those with the virus entering the school?
- How do we know who in our community has had the virus?
- What personal protection should be worn in school?
- How do we create an environment which ensures social distancing and how many students can now be accommodated in the school?
- What now constitutes a vulnerable member of staff? As a result, what is our staffing capacity?
- What now constitutes a vulnerable student? Is it our duty to prioritise their education before other students?
- How do you manage the resulting reduced contact ratio and reduction in staff? Do we create bubbles of students and staff?
- With the resulting reduced capacity how do you prioritise the on-site learning for the student population?
- Under these restrictions, students except for the vulnerable will still spend most of their time home-schooling, therefore, what activities should take place in schools?
- Is attendance voluntary or compulsory?
Questions such as these are at the moment at least, incredibly difficult to address, and without solid guidance from the relevant authorities we find ourselves in a situation of trying to pick our way through the issues using the best judgement possible.
We will of course find a way.
As always, we really appreciate the effort our correspondents have made to stay in touch. A number of them, with the end of term rapidly approaching, are working hard to finish on a high note and trying to determine what schooling will be like when their students return after the break. Others are preparing for a partial return to the new normality as their schools have just opened or are about to.
For all of them this is in stark contrast to last year when, with public and school exams finished, reports written and staff training and planning completed, they would be tidying up the loose ends and guiding everyone safely towards the exit. In what is rapidly starting to feel like a lost golden age, they would be certain in the knowledge they could all enjoy a well-earned rest, reassured that their school would restart on a specific day and in a familiar environment.
Take care and stay safe
George, Chair OLEVI