23 October 2020

Update on the NEU's COVID response

As half-term approaches I am contacting you to provide an update on the union’s response to the escalating COVID crisis in the region and describe some developments we will be carrying forward over the break, into November and beyond.

With the whole of the Region now in the second tier of the government’s new community restrictions it is important that we build on the excellent work done in spring and summer to ensure that schools and education professionals contribute meaningfully to the maintenance of safe workplaces and the suppression of community transmission of the virus.  While local Branches and school groups continue to negotiate with employers, monitor checklists and react to outbreaks, we have, this week, taken the following steps to ensure the voice of the profession is heard:

• The Joint General Secretaries have written to all employers in the sector to remind them of their legal obligations and citing new evidence on the significance of social distancing, ventilation and infection rates among young people.  The same letter reiterates the union’s demand in respect of the safety of high-risk, clinically vulnerable and extremely clinically vulnerable staff

• Branch Secretaries, have written to all Directors of Public Health in the region to examine their role in advising how local partners should work with the public to “prevent, contain and manage” outbreaks of coronavirus with a specific emphasis on education and early years settings

• I have met with (or written to) local Council Leaders, Metro Mayors and Members of Parliament to discuss the circumstances in which it would be appropriate to consider implementing the range of options available to local leaders which are set out in the government’s Contain Framework which was published on 28 August – a time when infection rates were much lower than they are now

• We have arranged a members’ Zoom meeting on 17 November to establish how best to respond to known problems in schools/colleges and co-ordinate activity to maximise our influence over decision makers. If you have not already done so you can register for this Zoom meeting here.

• We have issued posters to every workplace highlighting recommended “Dos and Don’ts” intended to preserve some minimum standards on safety and working conditions

• Via the TUC we have led discussions with other unions in the sector to ensure an effective and joined-up approach consistent with our National Recovery Plan for Education

• We are in the final stages of developing an App for use by school reps (or members in schools without a rep) to flag up COVID safety and workload concerns and escalate them collectively to school leaders with appropriate support from union structures.  It is expected that this will be launched on 3 November by text and email.

Much more information, advice and guidance on coronavirus issues can be found on our dedicated webpages.

In the event that current community infection rates do not subside the focus on schools and colleges will intensify in November and members are therefore encouraged to remain in contact with school reps and local officers as a means of informing decisions about a robust and appropriate union response. 

On behalf of the NEU Northern Regional Council, I wish you a relaxing half-term and look forward to working with you to meet the multiple challenges we anticipate over the next few weeks and months.

Best wishes

MIKE McDONALD
Regional Secretary

27 April 2020

Women of NEU: Emma Thornton on being an NEU Rep and having an impact in the workplace

Hi, my name is Emma Thornton. I have been an English teacher for 13 years. I became a work place rep this September, after returning to work full time after 4 years working part time to look after my daughter. 

In September my school had been placed in special measures and was going to become an academy. The academy trust came into school as part of a service level agreement straight away, so were effectively running the school from November. Over the next few months, I worked alongside the trust to successfully implement a new behaviour policy, a new staff room, new special education provision strategy, and much more. Not long before the lock down, the Local Authority consulted on a support staff restructure. With union support, amendments were made as part of that consultation and we avoided any compulsory redundancies. Now in lockdown, I am supporting members through the changes in their contracts, as part of that restructure. As well as that, the academisation process is due to go ahead for this September. I have liaised with members via email regularly and we are hopeful that the academisation process can still continue as planned through conducting the relevant legalities remotely.

In light of the pandemic, my husband, daughter and I have been shielding since the 17th March on account of our 5 year old daughter having a respiratory condition called Bronchiectasis, which places her in a high risk category. The school, following union guidance, ensured that any staff who were classed as vulnerable, or if they lived with someone vulnerable, such as in my situation, would not be asked to come into work as part of the staffing rota. As such I have been working from home. 

I use zoom conferences and google hangouts to keep in regular contact with the union at national level, and in contact with the head teacher almost weekly. I keep in contact with my members through personal email, checking in regularly with how things are going in school and reiterating the union guidance on keeping safe in school. I also use Whatsapp to keep in touch at regional level with the secretaries and reps in other schools.

It has been difficult at times to ensure my daughter is safe and well. My husband has since been furloughed, and so my income is the main source of finance. I feel incredibly grateful that my school are supportive in following the union guidance to permit me to work from home and can allow me the flexibility to support my daughter at home whilst still technically working. For me, being a working mother during these unprecedented times, has certainly been eased by the protections and guidance established by trade unions in the past and presently. 

24 April 2020

Women of NEU: Christine Egan-Fowler on the challenges of teaching by Zoom

“It’s obvious that kids miss school and so do I.” NEU member and Art teacher Christine Egan-Fowler on the challenges of teaching by Zoom

When asked to write about my experience of teaching remotely, I felt the pique that I'm sure my students feel. My attention span is usually really good, but when even the doorbell ringing.  presents a real life or death threat to isolating families, writing suddenly seems an alien task. 

My experience of Art teaching by Teams has been mixed; as has even the ordinary daily duty of morning roll call remotely, it has all been challenging. In my usual world, registration is a short, active pastoral time; I know my year 12 form students well and can spot if they are ready to learn. In this new world, I have asked my students to create 'a timetable ' and I know their teachers are sending them work to do during their 'working from home days', I greet them virtually at the start of each day, but none of us really knows what is ahead. I can only be cheery and reassuring and urge them to create a good space and to get down to work. 

It’s obvious that kids miss school and so do I.

As an Artist Teacher, I look to Artists for ideas; Robert Rauschenberg in 1953 caused a collective, world- wide intake of breath by asking artist Willem de Kooning to give him a drawing ‘one he would miss’. Rauschenberg then spent a month, as long as we have been on lockdown, erasing the drawing. This durational labour was a difficult daily task; removing layers of work and leaving only a ‘trace’ behind. Resulting in a beautiful work, in both physicality and concept. Rauschenberg called it 'poetry'.

Teaching remotely has made me 'erase' most of what I have known as the teaching day, for over 30 years. I 'erase' the noise and physicality of my days in the Art rooms, the chat at the sink and the joy of the noisy collective jostling, the buzz of creative endeavour. I have worked hard, however, to create an on line teaching presence, as have all my colleagues. I think of what I would need if I was in my student's shoes.

When I’m on a Zoom lesson there are so many things I want to ask the students; about how they are coping, but it all seems intrusive. Instead, like all the teachers I know, I am trying to set tasks that promote independence, a thirst for research, something to distract, challenges that I would have wanted in their situation.

I’ve turned to my ten year old Tumblr account; ‘artistteachercefThe Fleeting Glimpse’ (another nod to de Kooning) and asked my students to set up their own equivalent. This provides a starting point for a more bespoke approach to getting’ evidence’. It’s the process of research and response that I’m looking for, its the start for a critical conversation. Galleries, especially BALTIC, have made superb resources and I think I have become a virtual signpost to the world's museums and artists. There is a whole world 'erased' in the last month, but the traces left have given me opportunity to see the delicate detail that underpinned my school days, I think there is poetry to write...

Women of NEU: Tracy Hawdon, Specialist S&L Teacher

“The best thing is to be able to hear or see the children and their parents and let them know we are here – thank goodness for technology!”

As a Specialist Speech and Language Teacher, lockdown has brought some real challenges in terms of having direct contact with pupils. I coordinate a Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) Team of therapists, educational psychologists and support assistants and we work intensively with pupils with significant speech disorders or DLD, some of whom have an EHCP. The current situation has made us think outside our normal practice, we are now working much more closely with families as most of our children are staying at home. 
Some of us are also shielding due to our own health conditions.

We are devising support programmes and resource packs with the aim of keeping our children actively practising those skills we have worked on but without any expectation for parents to be taking on our specialist role. It's a fine balance trying to provide enough to prevent the children from losing those skills they've worked so hard to achieve whilst not wishing to add to the exceptionally busy lives at home. Many of our families have English as an additional language so we must be mindful of our expectations.

We are experimenting with remote therapy sessions and assessment using shared screens and duplicate resources.

The best thing is to be able to hear or see the children and their parents and let them know we are here, we're thinking about them and still doing our best to provide them with the support they need - thank goodness for technology!

22 April 2020

Women of NEU: Trish is a Rep from Durham


Following our recent Women's Conference (before lockdown), we're featuring some of the participants. Today we start with Trish who is a NEU Rep from the Durham area.

I’m school rep and Teaching Assistant Level 3 enhanced at Bowburn Primary School and during this difficult time, I am at home with my 88 yr old mother who lives with my husband and me. She has Alzheimer’s and when school closed, I was told I would not be on a rota but to work from home and look after her.

Working from home as a TA is difficult but as admin to our school website, I have been adding home work for the teachers. I also organised several collage photos of the staff with messages for the children which I added to the School News section.

As Rep. I have been passing on information from our District team via the school WhatsApp group, regardless of which union they are in. NEU information and help has been amazing compared to other unions! I have taken part in several Zoom sessions and am starting the Health and Safety online sessions this week.
I do feel permanently guilty that my colleagues have been risking their health by looking after key worker children each day.

07 April 2020

IMMEDIATE NEU COMMENT ON MEDIA REPORTING OF UCL RESEARCH ON SCHOOL CLOSURES

7 April 2020
School Closure Policies Throughout the current crisis, the NEU has called for policy decisions to be based on the findings of research and scientific enquiry. It welcomes the systematic review by Professor Viner and his colleagues of the effectiveness of school closure policies in dealing with coronavirus outbreaks, including Covid-19. Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the NEU, said: "This is an important study, to which those who work in education will give the most careful consideration. We note that it provides no evidence on which to move back from the current strategy adopted by the UK. The review indicates that school closures are effective as part of a combination of tactics of social distancing and testing.  This is the evidence from China, from Hong Kong, and from a modelling study carried out in the UK. 'In relation to the findings of two Chinese studies, the review notes that both pieces of research conclude that the overall package of quarantine and social distancing, including school closure, was effective in reducing the epidemic in mainland China. 'Summarising two further studies of Covid-19 in Hong Kong, the review notes that school closures were implemented at the same time as a number of other stringent social distancing measures. Collectively, these measures to held to have controlled the spread of the outbreak. 'Finally, the review reports the findings of a UK research study, that a combination of measures, again including school closures, would be the most effective. 'Everyone wants schools to be re-opened as soon as is safely possible. This can only happen on the basis of sound scientific reasoning that school closure is no longer necessary for the suppression of Covid-19. We are a long way from this point. The combination of measures that the government has introduced must remain in place".