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James Bream: Getting children back to school a good thing – but safety measures must be put in place

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So it is official; the schools are going back on August 11, that was about the only fixed date in Nicola Sturgeon’s statement on Thursday.

I don’t know if this is good or bad news but I thought I could weigh up a few pros and cons. Please forgive me, some of this is serious stuff while some of it probably a bit more irreverent.

It is always good to have certainty; people like to know straightforward facts. The first thing teachers will want to know is that they will be safe in their place of work. With that in mind the comment about June being used for physical change in schools will be welcomed. A Perspex box for them to teach from will protect them but would also mean they can’t throw stuff at kids any more.

Two weeks ago the BBC reported on a statement from the education secretary in England who said: “We owe it to the children to get them back to school.” Within that statement there is a myriad of issues.

Education is a right of all children. However, so is making sure they are safe and that must include keeping teachers and their families safe too. The tone of the statement from Gavin Williamson, coming amid fighting between teaching unions and government, implied that teachers should feel compelled to work. Surely teachers should only feel compelled to return if they feel safe to do so?

While teachers are frontline workers and many see it as a vocation, they are also employees and their employer has a duty of care to keep them safe. With that in mind I wouldn’t expect any teacher to return to work until they felt as safe as any other employee in any other business.

Importantly, the issue is further complicated as the stakeholders are a whole community, including teachers, other employees, pupils and families who may all have health conditions or situations which make it difficult to return to school. With that being the case it will be hard to assess how education will work. Where historically rules of attendance at school for pupils and teachers were simple, there will be many nuances and exceptions.

The historically “normal” method of operating an economy is that kids go to school and people go to work around that. It does not seem viable that mode of operation will be continued, Nicola Sturgeon confirmed as much.

For families where one adult is a teacher it may be that a return to school to work where a partner also works may be more difficult than the current version of lockdown. For all families, having a child in school part-time may be just as challenging as not being in school at all and so great (currently optional) flexibility will be required from employers.

On a lighter note there are some benefits to schools returning.

I will no longer need to home-school as much. I am a terrible teacher and apparently an embarrassing parent. For any teachers reading, from a child’s context it is not advisable to give any freedom to parents around art and drama subjects. Apparently no child wants a video of a family Greatest Showman sing-a-long posted on their Google Classroom, nor is it cool to have a parent in the background in any situation. Apparently my lockdown haircut, hefty beard and “workwear” (pyjamas or vests) is just downright awful.

I have also had challenges on the classroom behaviour front with serious amounts of backchat and ill-discipline creeping in. I am sure the P3 teacher doesn’t suffer this, or at least the report cards don’t say so. It is clear I am never going to cut it as a teacher and frankly don’t deserve to based on my probation employment period.

My pupils don’t much like my school lunches and playtime descends into running battles. My skills as a playground assistant also leave much to be desired. I’m really praying I am not alone in these admissions of parental failure.

I can however try to convince you it is not all bad. I am sure the kids will have learned much using the old University of Life adage. Many parents will be proud that their child now knows how to make their bed, ride a bike, do planting, lay two tonnes of type one aggregate, hit their hand with a hammer and make awful wood carvings out of logs found on a walk.

Surely an army of handy kids who are able to build a tidy raised bed for planting strawberries can only be good for an economic recovery.

James Bream was research and policy director at Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce and is now general manager of Aberdeen-based Katoni Engineering