It is not an exaggeration to say that COVID-19 has devastated supply teaching opportunities across the country. Those who had carved a career out of supporting schools as and when needed, suffered a sudden and dramatic loss of earnings when schools closed in March 2020. Now, as schools plan to reopen more fully for the new term, there are myriad concerns about how this can be achieved safely, especially for those who may be working across several different classes or different settings.
This summer there have been a number of research studies shedding some light on whether children can catch and carry SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19. We have learned that children do catch it, they do carry it, and they can pass it on to others. How we keep all members of a school’s community safe(including parents/carers and extended family members) under these circumstances remains unanswered, especially when basic personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks are deemed to be unnecessary (this is not the case elsewhere in the world). This question is amplified for supply teachers.
The National Education Union (NEU) released a document of advice for supply teachers during the COVID-19 era, stating that: “We know that supply educators have experienced real difficulties since lockdown began in March. The full opening of schools in September will give rise to additional concerns.”
Those concerns, beyond the financial (existing with no income for months has been immensely challenging for millions of people who have not qualified for government support), include a multitude of questions around whether supply teachers can move between schools, whether they can move between bubbles in schools, how it is possible to protect oneself from catching the virus, how it is possible to prevent passing it on to others and so on.
Understandably, some of those who were working as supply teachers have decided to take a pause from such work while the pandemic is ongoing. However, many will seek to continue to offer this invaluably flexible service to schools from September onwards.
The NEU guidance covers most if not all the frequent concerns of supply teachers including a useful checklist. If you are seeking to work as a supply teacher from September, these points may help to keep you safe:
- Check out the arrangements for keeping staff safe before agreeing to work in a particular school.
- Make sure that you know the latest health and safety guidance, in particular with regard to COVID-19, in every school you work in. It is important to be fully familiar with all relevant arrangements.
- If you want to minimise the amount you move from school to school, make it known that you would like to commit to one or two settings. This may well suit many schools. As in normal times, building relationships is crucial in education, and especially so in the COVID-19 era.
- It should be possible to work in multiple schools as long as all the relevant precautions are taken by all concerned in every setting you visit.
- Don’t share your supplies of pens etc with children. They should have what they need in school and should not ideally be sharing with others in the class or with teachers.
- If in any doubt about the level of health and safety in a setting, raise your concerns. If it feels risky to you, it probably is
Employers have a legal duty when it comes to keeping employees safe – this is not just in general terms, as the NEU explains, but for you specifically. It is perfectly reasonable for you to ask your agency or employer precise questions about safety as it concerns your specific circumstances, cleanliness in any schools you are asked to work in, social distancing, the provision of PPE, and the procedures for tracking and tracing cases of COVID-19. A full list of questions you may want to ask employers can be found on the NEU website. While the Department for Education has said that face coverings should be removed by staff and students when entering school/college, the NEU and the Health and Safety Executive say that if staff choose to wear face coverings this should be respected: “The NEU position is that any students or members of staff who choose to wear a face covering for purposes of personal or collective reassurance should be permitted to do so. The NEU expects schools and colleges to respect this reasonable position.”
For everyone working in supply this coming year, stay safe, good luck, and go well!
Find out more…
Education Support Partnership website also has information on supply teaching and COVID-19.
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.