How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect your students?
One class, who are in Year 10 now, I had since year 8 and I feel like I really did instil a love of chemistry in them. That was a class that I took a lot of pride in, but as soon as there was any kind of talk of a lockdown the children switched off. So we've had probably a solid six months of some pupils who haven't actually had any school learning at all.
A lot of our families don't have internet access – it’s not affordable. We had kids saying they would usually go to their grandparents but now they couldn’t. The laptops that we were supposed to receive from the Government in June – that never happened. We are only getting a lot of them now (in November). Many of our pupils do not have laptops or mobile phones that can access Google classrooms and things like that – so there was a very, very big barrier in technology. We were maybe having 20% of students handing work in if we were lucky, because just because of all these barriers.
It was so hard because you knew that this Year 10 class who would 100% do their work all lesson, couldn't do it because they had no access. And when they came back they were just disheartened, definitely behind in their learning. The effect wasn’t just on curriculum content, but emotionally. It has taken a long time to get them re-engaged in lessons and back to the culture of learning to even access the curriculum, so that has probably added another month onto how far behind they are, still having so much to cover before exams.
Attendance hasn't been great since we came back, with many families not wanting to send students to school. We had two positive COVID-19 cases in one year and a massive percentage of that year-group then had to isolate for two weeks, and missed a lot of revision for our mock exams. In these exams our foundation pupils didn’t do too badly, but the higher tier have suffered immensely. These are the students where you have to teach them the language – intramolecular, intermolecular forces etc – to answer questions, and it is really worrying.
How are practical classes working now?
We have a lot of restrictions. If we do a practical everything goes into a container for one specific group who would then use it, it doesn't get shared and then it will be put away for 72 hours so our technician can do the necessary sanitising before it can be used again. But as we are low on equipment to start with, if somebody wants to use the equipment the next day they then have to shuffle their lessons around which has a knock-on effect and is causing a few issues, as you can imagine.
Funding is a bigger issue than ever, it really is. It's an issue everywhere across the country. But if we had the additional funding, just for equipment, that would take a lot of stress off teachers - it would improve children's learning and they will be able to do the core practicals without having to share five thermometers between 20 children, which is quite difficult when you're running multiple practicals.
What do you think the long-term impacts will be?
I just feel like they're going to be so much more disadvantaged when they are going for jobs or when they're looking at what they could do, because of this time that's been missed. It’s just a gut feeling that the pupils are going to be disadvantaged further down the line, because they never had the aspirations to begin with and building on the aspirations has been knocked because of COVID.
I think that we are really going to have to think about the knock-on effects longer term. It's not only these Year 11s, I can already see the effect it's going to have on the Year 10s. How are we going to put it right – to make sure that we have covered all the curriculum, which is always a big issue, but also that the children understand it and it's embedded? That's going to be quite a bumpy road. We’re already doing a recovery curriculum constantly. This year for Year 9 I've missed three modules and I will now have to find the place for this in Year 10 or Year 11 and that’s hugely concerning – it’s a lot to cover.
How have you been coping personally?
I think as teachers we don't like to admit if we are struggling with things, we are in a culture where we just get on with it. The teachers are so close at my school, and we work together so well that we always have each other's backs and will pick up work when needed. The lockdown was actually really good for our curriculum development – we have re-planned it as best we could from year seven all the way to year eleven, working flat out. So we know we have these absolutely amazing lessons that we're going to teach, even though sometimes the restrictions make it quite difficult to do group work and practicals.
Emotionally it is more complicated. We are really, really worried of the effect on our pupils in the future, as well as on their exams. It's just fear of the unknown for us at the moment, all we can do is our best to support students in really hard situations, to the best of our ability.
I think that it's good to talk about these things because it is swept under the carpet quite a lot and I think the more we talk and we say that we are struggling then hopefully someone will listen.