Is school safe for teachers?

For many students and teachers this week marked the end of the summer holidays and the beginning of the new academic year. However, after months of home learning and virtual teaching, this new school year will feel somewhat different. Since the government’s announcement that schools will reopen, many teachers have rightly expressed their concerns regarding the reintroduction of in-person teaching. For the first time many teachers will be questioning if it is truly safe for them to be at work in a physical capacity. 

Understandably many teachers likely feel nervous about returning to school considering the continued seriousness of coronavirus. Reentering the classroom environment and being in an enclosed space with numerous students no doubt raises safety concerns, not only for student wellbeing but also for that of teachers and other members of staff. In a recent BBC article, for example, one teacher described her concern over the possible threat in-person teaching could pose to her and her family’s health. So, what guidance has the government provided to alleviate the anxieties teachers and staff might be feeling and ensure returning teachers are safe? 

Government guidance/ measures 

The main government guidance centres around lowering the potential of COVID-19 transmission within schools, and thus reducing the risk posed to teachers and support staff. The government has proposed the following measures be adhered to: 

  • Ensure minimal contact with students and staff who either have symptoms of COVID-19 or live in the same household as somebody exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms. Such individuals will be required to go home. 
  • For schools within local lockdown – staff and students (from year 7 and up) must wear face coverings in communal spaces. Elsewhere, the imposition of face coverings for staff in communal areas will be left to the discretion of headteachers. 
  • Regular and thorough hand washing/ sanitising is paramount. 
  • Maintenance of sensible respiratory hygiene – easy access to tissues and bins is advisable. 
  • Regular and targeted cleaning of surfaces using disinfectant.
  • Reduce interactions between individuals – one method of doing so is through the creation of groups or ‘bubbles’ and respecting social distancing. 
  • The utilisation of PPE when necessary
    • PPE is advised when interacting with a student who is displaying COVID-19 symptoms at school and a safe distance is not possible.
    • PPE must continue to be used when a student has specific care needs. 

Further and circumstantial guidance can be found through the official government website

Teacher COVID-19 safety measures will also vary depending on the level of teaching i.e. nursery, primary school, secondary school etc and on the physical health of individual members of staff.

Furthermore, as the coming school year will likely present a number of challenges it is important that the mental wellbeing of teachers and school staff is also taken into consideration. Within the government outlines, students and staff are to be provided with greater mental health support through the Department of Education, with the aim of opening up conversations surrounding mental health and to help teachers navigate the complexities of teaching in the age of coronavirus. 

Ultimately teacher’s returning to the classroom this September are doing so for the benefit of their students – it is therefore of the utmost importance that they are given the respect and support they require in order to safely carry out their roles. Thus it is the responsibility of the entire school community to follow the appropriate guidelines and appreciate that this year will be a learning curve in more ways than one.