by Kristina Murkett
Tuesday, 21
December 2021
Analysis
10:30

The trouble with Nadhim Zahawi’s ex-teacher army

The Education Secretary's big idea sounds better than it is
by Kristina Murkett
Credit: Getty

Most teachers and students should now be celebrating the start of the Christmas holidays, but instead are anxiously awaiting the ‘tidal wave’ of Omicron that is predicted to hit schools in January. There are concerns that January mock exams — which could prove vital if we have to return to teacher-assessed grades — will be cancelled, and many schools are already preparing for remote learning or delayed start dates. Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi even said yesterday morning that disruptions are likely until Easter, and has called upon retired and former teachers to “come forward and join the national mission” to keep schools open during the spring term.

It’s a nice idea in theory: a garrison of grey-haired grandparents valiantly returning to the schools they once loved to help join the war effort against Omicron. Except in reality, of course, it will be nothing like that. Former teachers left for a reason, and retired teachers (who are probably much older) are unlikely to want to put themselves in an environment where Covid is rife, ventilation is poor, and social distancing is impossible. Latest figures show that in the last two weeks of November, school staff were 37% more likely to catch Covid than other workers. As Omicron becomes dominant, this risk will only increase.

Even if there was a surprising uptake in volunteers, there are two other practical obstacles to consider. Firstly, former and retired teachers will most likely need a new DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) check before they are allowed to work with pupils. Basic DBS checks take around fourteen days to process, but enhanced DBS checks (which are needed to teach) typically take six to eight weeks. By this point we will hopefully be over the peak, and rapidly approaching the Easter holidays anyway.

Secondly, the government isn’t asking people to volunteer with schools directly, but instead match with a supply agency who will tell you — often with very little notice — when and where you are needed. Supply agencies are expensive for schools; they normally charge around £160-200 a day per teacher, and so just one staff member isolating for ten days equates to thousands of pounds. Yet we also cannot expect people to volunteer out of the goodness of their hearts. Being a supply teacher is challenging — teaching pupils you don’t know and have no relationship with in an unfamiliar environment is not for the faint-hearted — and so we need the financial incentive if we want people to sign up.

If the government and schools can work together to get the programme up and running quickly (which will not be easy over the Christmas holidays) then having a greater pool of supply teachers may help to ease some of the pressure. However, if we really want to minimise disruption to students’ education, then having someone there just to supervise isn’t enough. We need to make sure that supply teachers match with their subject specialism, and we need to keep transmission as low as possible or show some flexibility around self-isolation policies for asymptomatic, boostered staff. For isolating teachers, the Government should provide them with support to help them teach from home. Either way, we are looking set for a very bumpy Christmas period.

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Colin Black
Colin Black
7 months ago

This will be fun. Those who return to the classroom after many years away will find that things are very different. Appalling pupil behaviour, absence of order, the emphasis on the contemporary preoccupations of diversity, inclusion and equity (the acronymn DIE is so apposite), as well as the new role for schools as places of learning (learning what?) as compared with places of teaching – all this will come as a shock. However, there may be some great exposes of what life in our expensive classrooms today is like. I can envisage some entertaining blogs from our grey pilgrims of the chalky way, maybe even some in-your-face revelations on Unherd.

Last edited 7 months ago by Colin Black
andrew harman
andrew harman
7 months ago

I left teaching in 2008 after i like to think was a successful career on the whole, made head of department and did it for nearly 20 years.
Enjoying being a private tutor now and I think it is the best work I have ever done. There is nothing on Earth would get me back in the classroom.

Last edited 7 months ago by andrew harman
Carol Forshaw
Carol Forshaw
7 months ago

As a retired secondary teacher, I forwarded the appeal to my What’s app group of retired ex colleagues. We all agreed that we would not go back for £1 million. Good luck to those who rise to the challenge.

Peter LR
Peter LR
7 months ago

I wouldn’t go back – need to keep my blood pressure down! Getting a DBS check is a nightmare; yes, you’re dead right – unworkable!

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
7 months ago

Why do Ministers make stupid suggestions when they have an army of Civil Servants to run their suggestions by and hopefully get them shot down with the obvious facts outlined here?

Last edited 7 months ago by Jeremy Bray
Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
7 months ago

The idea led to howling sou’wester strength galeforce storms of hogwhimpering guffawing in our house.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
7 months ago

I like to imagine the authorities being forced to hire an army of grown-ups who point blank refuse to pander to woke nonsense.