“SHOCKING and appalling” – that’s how one York head described the lack of sufficient time given by the Government when making announcements to schools during the Covid-19 pandemic.

John Tomsett, head at Huntington School and chairman of the York Schools and Academies Board, made the remarks as teachers at both primary and secondary level in York reflected on how their industry has changed over the course of the pandemic – and the challenges they have overcome along the way.

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought up new obstacles for those working in the education sector across the UK, from remote teaching to handling restrictions in a classroom setting.

Head teachers and teachers in the city of York have looked back on how their roles have changed and how they have had to adapt to meet these new demands.

A significant issue that teachers in York highlighted was the lack of sufficient time given to them by the Government when making announcements for the education sector - describing it as “shocking and appalling”.

A study from the Education Support organisation titled ‘Covid and the classroom’ - which looks at how education professionals have been affected by the pandemic - shows that 39 per cent of those that participated said that the lack of “timely” guidance from the Government had been an issue. Sixty-five per cent of teachers that took part in the study said they had not felt “appreciated” by the Government for their work during the pandemic.

Teachers from different schools in the city have expressed their concern at how the Government has dealt with the education sector during the pandemic – including the situation with exams and the timing of announcements. The Government announced earlier this year that as well as taking internal exams, students at both GCSE and A-level stages will have their marks determined by their teachers to give them grades which “reflect their ability” - which will be based on the work they have completed.

Mr Tomsett, who also teaches on a daily basis, said: “I think what the Government have done with examinations and timings has been utterly shocking. It’s been appalling.

“They said right up until Christmas that exams were happening and then announced on January 4 that they weren’t.

“They said that they have had a plan B all along, when they clearly haven’t.

“We’ve just had to get on with it, it’s been unbelievable.”

Meanwhile, Rod Sims, head at York High School, explained that he thought the lack of forewarning from the Government had been “really bad”.

Mr Sims said: “Everyone always thinks that we know more than we do, we find out when everybody else does – and I think that’s shocking.

“We sent the children home at Christmas, not knowing when they were due back. At times, we have been going day-to-day not knowing what was happening.”

He also said that the school has felt “unsupported”, with the exam situation – stating it has left children and parents feeling “anxious”.

Meanwhile, York Central Labour MP Rachael Maskell said that teachers had been put under “impossible” levels of stress during the pandemic.

The MP said: “With Government’s continuous issuing of new guidance at the last minute and the complete mismanagement over exams and assessments, teachers have had a very challenging year.”

Responding to these comments, a spokesperson for the Department of Education said: “Over the course of the pandemic the Government has made swift decisions where necessary, consistently working to keep children and young people in the classroom wherever possible, as that is the best place for their education and wellbeing.

“We are now focused on supporting all pupils to recover from the immediate impact of the pandemic and making sure that no child or young person is left behind.

“We are investing £1.7 billion in ambitious catch-up activity, and are working with parents, teachers and schools to develop a long-term plan to make sure all pupils have the chance to recover as quickly and comprehensively as possible.”

Discussing further issues teachers have faced during the pandemic, Mr Sims, who also teaches at York High School, added that at first, teachers felt “a lot of fear and nerves”, about inventing new ways to teach, as he said “everything has been different”.

“Teaching is a relationship-based profession and the highlights of teaching are interactions with other people. I think for a lot of teachers that was something that they missed,” he added.

Mr Tomsett said that at times remote teaching was like “speaking into a black hole” and it had been difficult to ensure that students were engaged when learning from home.

Data from City of York Council shows that as well as teaching remotely, teachers also had to cope with face-to-face learning at the same time. The data shows that in February 2021, 5.13 per cent of secondary school pupils were still attending school physically, for different reasons such as having parents who are key workers.

The primary school data for the same period shows that 29.86 per cent of pupils were physically attending school.

Research from the study by the Education Support organisation shows that 55 per cent of teachers who took part in the survey said they had worked from home during the pandemic – 49 per cent of whom said the biggest challenge they faced was ensuring pupils completed the work they had been set.

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Meanwhile, 32 per cent said they continued to work in school - 51 per cent of whom said the biggest challenge they faced was ensuring staff and students stuck to the new social distancing regulations.

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Speaking on this, Mr Tomsett added: “One great thing that this pandemic has confirmed is that live teaching is great, but online teaching is rubbish and we hate it. I think that’s a silver lining among the clouds.”

Adam Cooper, head teacher at Knavesmire Primary School, said: “This hasn’t been the job that teachers signed up for.

“Teachers know how to deal with children, but it’s very difficult to do that with 40 little screens during a remote learning session.”

Further research from Education Support shows that 50 per cent of education professionals felt that their mental health and well-being declined during the pandemic – showing the toll it has taken on some teachers’ lives.

Sharon Keelan-Beardsley, head of All Saint’s RC School in the city, said: “We have opened up the school for teachers to work in during the final lockdown to use if they wish for wellbeing purposes. We have a really strong, supportive community at this school and I feel that we have been there for both staff and pupils to support them.”

Councillor Keith Orrell, Executive Member for Children and Education at City of York Council, thanked staff at schools in York for their “exceptional” work during the pandemic.

He said: “Staff across York’s schools have worked exceptionally hard with pupils attending schools – the children of key workers, or children with care plans – as well as those working online.

“I would like to thank them for all they have done to continue educating our children at this extraordinary time.”

Rachael Maskell added: “It is time that the dedication and professionalism of teaching and support staff was recognised, and that they receive the respect they deserve.”