Wed 2 December 2020

16-year-old student Olivia Eren explains why students distrust the Government’s plans to reopen schools and defends teachers against the tabloid onslaught

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On behalf of all the children, keep the schools closed. 

This week, I should’ve been starting my GCSE exams. Instead, I’m sat at home, and reading countless headlines accusing teachers of being “lazy” or “working against the interests of the poorest people during lockdown”. This angers me, so I wanted to share my experience of this ‘new way of learning’ and break down some of the misinformation that some of the media are spreading to demonise our teachers as the claims that they are not doing enough are not only insulting but quite simply not true.

Do you really blame teachers for having concerns, when we currently have the highest overall Coronavirus death toll in Europe? 

I live in Halton, the 27th most deprived local authority in England; more than a quarter of my peers live in poverty. There are huge discrepancies between the better-off students and those living below the poverty line — the latter stick out like a sore thumb. Before COVID-19 was even heard of, my teachers were buying stationery, contributing to and distributing food parcels, buying toiletries for the most vulnerable students — all out of their own pockets. No doubt they are still doing the same while we are in lockdown. 

The suggestion that schools are completely closed, in my opinion, could not be further from the truth. My teachers are still setting and marking work, checking up on us via phone and email, finding college and work placements for those who have not managed to find somewhere and even making food parcels for the most disadvantaged students! All while homeschooling their own children. 

Earlier this week in the House of Commons, the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, accused teachers of “scaremongering”, saying “making people fear is really unfair” and “an unwelcome pressure that is to be placed on families and teachers alike”. Only a week prior to this we were told to stay at home and protect the most vulnerable.

Perhaps if the government stopped sending mixed messages and telling us to “use our own common sense” (rather than setting clear and concise guidelines), teachers and parents would be more comfortable about reopening schools. Do you really blame teachers for having concerns, when we currently have the highest overall Coronavirus death toll in Europe? 

I find it difficult to understand the rationale behind letting the two years of reception and year one classes to be the first to be sent back. Children at this age are simply too young to comprehend the current situation, and generally lack the concept of basic hygiene and socially distance.

Arguments that keeping the children in lockdown is having a more negative effect than being at school are quite frankly absurd. How do you tell a four-year-old to keep a two-metre distance without affecting their wellbeing? How would a child feel, being told that nobody wanted to be near them? How would a child react to seeing their playground empty, their classes smaller and their older friends are gone? This would, undoubtedly, cause them to feel extremely unsettled.

Williamson claims that he has concerns over poor and disadvantaged students missing out on vital education. However, he seems to have had no problem voting to cut benefits 51 times and pushing already vulnerable children further into the depths of poverty, putting their well-being undoubtedly at risk. Anyone who thinks that this government has the best interests for children should look at the way they have decimated children’s services over the last 10 years. Sure Start centres? Closed. Mental health services? Cut.  Schools? Massively underfunded. 

So please, on behalf of all the children, keep the schools closed.

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