Reports over the last week about catch-up teaching and nurseries appear to put the Government on another collision course with teachers and childcare providers.
There were reports over the weekend that the Government is considering whether to relax child to carer ratios in early years. There have also been reports about alleged plans to end maximum teaching hours limits at schools. Scrapping the maximum limit would allow schools to negotiate locally with teachers on extending the school day, one of the options being considered to help students catch up after the pandemic.
What both of these have in common is that they will increase the stress on staff. Despite attempts to portray teachers as somehow not doing much over the pandemic when the Government was trying to get the schools to open up after the first lockdown, anyone who had any passing acquaintance with the education system – such as a parent – could see that that was the opposite of what was happening.
We were getting constant updates from schools, schools were teaching both online and in person to vulnerable and key worker children and many were also helping to distribute emergency food and tech to those children who couldn’t access online learning. What was offered online did vary across the country, but no-one was sitting doing nothing and many, as it turned out, had perfectly legitimate fears about catching Covid from school children.
For our family, which was also going through a bereavement, the support was exemplary. Amidst everything else that was doing on, all three schools where my kids were rang regularly to check on how the kids were, provided counselling or extra support and even hand delivered GSCE mock papers when my daughter was isolating. I will never forget that support.
But, like all of us and more so than many who have been able to work from home for the entire time and avoid a lot of the anxiety of Covid, they are exhausted. Of course, they want to help children catch up on their learning and, more than that, help children to recover mentally from the pandemic. But is making them work longer hours – on what looks like no extra pay – going to do that?
We already know that the Government is trying to slash the funding that experts reckon schools need for implementing catch-up plans. Sir Kevan Collins, the Government’s former education recovery commissioner, resigned earlier this year after he put forward a £15bn recovery plan only to be allocated £1.4bn.
Then we have nurseries. The Government already attempted to reduce the ratios eight years ago, but after campaigning by parents and childcare providers worried about quality and safety, the plans were dropped. Any parent who has dealt with toddlers knows that even one on one it is hard work. Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, said over the weekend: “If the Government does attempt to relax ratios, it won’t because they want to help providers or parents. It will because ministers see doing so as a shortcut to fixing the childcare crisis that they created without having to actually invest in the early years sector.”
Childcare providers have been crying out for extra funding for years, and particularly during the Covid pandemic where they have often been absent from discussions or where little notice has been paid to what was going on on the ground. Late last year, for instance, Kemi Badenoch, Minister for Equalities, told the Women and Equalities Committee that nurseries she had spoken to were “very happy” with the support the Government had provided during the pandemic. I don’t know what nurseries she was talking to, but that is not my experience of speaking to nurseries, particularly those in deprived areas.
Yes, the Government faces all sorts of demands for money in the wake of the pandemic, which, of course, is not yet over. But it still seems to see education – particularly teachers – as the enemy rather than working with them to come up with realistic solutions. No doubt we will see the usual anti-teacher abuse in the media as it seeks to push through whatever proposals it eventually publishes, but bullying is no way to deal with something as important as the future of young people.