Teaching unions have failed children

They said face-to-face teaching was unsafe. A major new study explodes this claim.

Fraser Myers

Fraser Myers
assistant editor

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Topics Politics UK

One of the biggest casualties of lockdown has been children’s education. Two academic years have been disrupted by school closures, cancelled exams and forced isolation. All in all, it’s estimated that more than a billion school days have been lost in Britain due to coronavirus restrictions.

The toll these restrictions have taken on children and young people has been extraordinary. The disruption has damaged their learning, their physical and mental health, and it has created an even greater divide between the children of rich and poor parents.

You might think, then, that the case for these restrictions would be overwhelming – that without them, lives would be at stake. We know that Covid-19 is not especially dangerous to children. And so one of the main arguments for shutting schools was that it was necessary to protect the lives of teachers.

For the past two years, the teaching unions have argued that schools are unsafe – that they are petri dishes of infection that put school staff at an unacceptable risk. They have demanded earlier school closures and have baulked every time schools have reopened. They have also pushed for a vast range of restrictions that disrupt children’s learning, even while they are in schools. All in the name of safety, of course.

Well, a major study published in the British Medical Journal today ought to put this question of teachers’ safety to bed, once and for all. The study used a dataset of tens of thousands of teachers in Scotland. It examined both the periods when teachers were at school and out of school. And its findings completely contradict the claims of the unions.

According to the BMJ, the study found that ‘neither teachers, nor their household members, were at increased risk of hospital admission with Covid-19, or severe Covid-19, at any time during the 2020-21 academic year compared with similar working-age adults, including during periods when schools were fully open’.

These results are pretty damning. Unless teachers are supposed to be part of some special, higher class of people, whose lives should be valued above those of others, there is no reason why most teachers – barring those who are elderly, immunosuppressed or vulnerable – should not have been in school these past two years. There was no rational reason for children’s learning to suffer to the extent that it did during the crisis.

The study’s authors say that their findings ‘should reassure those who are engaged in face-to-face teaching’. Hopefully the study reassures teachers. Sadly, the chances of it reassuring the teaching unions are next to zero. Plenty of studies before this have drawn a similar conclusion: that teachers are not at increased risk compared to everyone else. But they have made no impact on unions’ demands.

Not even the mass rollout of the vaccine has been able to calm the most hysterical voices within the teaching unions. Nor has the data following ‘Freedom Day’ – against expert predictions, the lifting of social-distancing measures in England did not result in an explosion of infections.

As schools return, the unions’ clamour for tighter, education-wrecking restrictions grows only louder.

Enough is enough. In the next school year, and every school year after it, education must come first.

Fraser Myers is assistant editor at spiked and host of the spiked podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @FraserMyers.

Picture by: Getty.

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