All students are now back in schools for the first time since March, but for how long? Teachers are usually an optimistic bunch, but this year there is much greater worry about the year ahead. A quarter of you are pessimistic about the coming year; in normal years this figure would be much lower.
In a normal year there would be no difference in levels of optimism across school phases, but this year secondary teachers are more pessimistic. 27% of secondary teachers are pessimistic about this school year compared to 20% of primary teachers. This is understandable – their risk of COVID-19 is generally viewed as higher in secondaries thanks to larger bubbles, greater student and teacher movements around the school, plus the age of the students.
Uncertainty brings the most worry (as we showed here), and an additional source of concern is that many of you feel you do not fully understand the government’s (ever-changing) guidance…
People are now expected to wear masks in most enclosed public spaces, yet schools have largely been excluded from this guidance. However, we have seen an increase in schools requiring masks to be worn. A quarter of schools are requiring students to wear masks in some circumstances and almost half are requiring teachers to wear them in particular places.
It is largely in secondary schools where mask-wearing is now taking place – almost half of secondaries are requiring students to wear them in certain situations and 4-in-10 secondary teachers say they will be wearing a mask at times. (Notice how many fewer teachers say that they will wear a mask themselves, given how many schools require it in certain circumstances. This suggests that teachers will actively choose to avoid communal areas, such as staffrooms as much as possible.)
We wondered whether mask wearing would be more common in the north of England where there are currently more COVID-19 outbreaks. The northern regions do indeed seem more likely to have introduced rules requiring masks for students and teachers, but the differences are not stark.
Teacher attitudes to mask-wearing have also changed a great deal. Back in June, 43% of you felt the benefits outweighed the downsides of wearing masks in schools, Now that’s shifted to 57%.
School will be very different this year. In a normal academic year, most of you contribute to some sort of lunch-time or after-school club. We asked who is running a club this term, and very few of you are.
There are lots of reasons why this will be the case. Fewer spaces available, to reduce pupil mixing and because the school needs longer for cleaning time. It will mean a time gain for some teachers but the loss of relationship-building with pupils is likely to be felt quite keenly. We will keep an eye on how this changes.