When we returned to work in Caerphilly, despite the headteacher’s best efforts, lack of routine testing was causing huge anxiety among staff. Students weren’t in yet – but we knew that, within a few days of reopening, there would be 33 different students in front of us every hour. We were advised to wear masks but the local authority won’t go further and make it mandatory, so we can’t even enforce it

Caerphilly’s infection rate was rising fast. Even with PPE and social distancing among staff (but not students, because we don’t have the room), housing up to a thousand people on a single school site was never going to be safe without testing.

Now we’re in local lockdown. Yet the schools are open, and there is still no sign of routine tests or even temperatures being taken at the gates. If there are two or more confirmed infections in a single year group, that entire year will have to isolate for two weeks. But everyone else will carry on attending despite the likelihood of year groups mixing outside school.

In an effort to minimise movement around the school, students are staying in their ‘bubbles’ in one room and teachers are rotating around the site. This is all very well, but it means those young people will be stuck in the same room for hours every day with only two short breaks. (Staff have to accompany them on these breaks to ensure they don’t mix with other bubbles.)

The school doesn’t feel it’s safe opening the canteen, so is relying on council food parcels to get our most deprived students through the day. This means no hot meal.

We have been told that students can’t sing or perform in groups for music and drama lessons. The PE staff are very anxious about carrying out lessons safely. We can’t mark books in case of cross-contamination so we are frantically trying to find a way around that.

Students can’t discuss in groups or even in pairs; classrooms have been laid out so that they face forward at all times; this is clearly not going to be an acceptable environment for learning. It’s barely humane, but the school doesn’t have much choice when the unions aren’t demanding tests.

If there were effective testing in place, then this level of disruption wouldn’t be necessary and we could aim for some level of ‘normality’. We are all increasingly worried about our students falling behind and also about our own kids’ education, but without proper testing, a second wave and more deaths are sadly inevitable as soon as schools reopen.

Our unions are failing us by refusing to fight for our safety and that of our students. I’m secondary and I teach English; I am also the NEU rep. I’ll be contacting the local NEU branch and the Cardiff union office to demand they put pressure on Caerphilly council to protect staff and students more effectively.

As I write this we already have two confirmed cases among students, and another two in parents whose children were in school. We are just being told that if we came into contact with those students, but didn’t get closer than two metres, we are ‘fine’.

If they had routine tests each week then we could just get on with it. This nonsense will just lead to closures all over again.

By a secondary English teacher and NEU rep

Read more reports from school staff, parents and students in the latest copy of the Socialist newspaper, online here.

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