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Back to work after shielding?


Hi, I’m a 63 year-old primary school teacher with severe asthma, I was shielding and I have to confess that I’m really scared about returning to work. Our classrooms are too small to allow me to keep the recommended 2m distance, we have been told not to wear face coverings, there is just one loo for all the staff which certainly won’t be cleaned after each person. The class ‘bubbles’ are largely fictional- as a language specialist, I will be teaching six different groups each week in six different classrooms, while at least four other teachers will teach in my classroom each week.

I am desperately keen to get children back into school but I have no confidence in the school’s ability or willingness to make this safe - during lockdown no-one made any attempt to maintain social distancing in the key worker school because it was too difficult’!

In general, it is hard to make sensible judgements about what activities are safe after shielding - my GP said to me at the beginning of lockdown that if I got the virus, I had a greater chance of dying than surviving!

I would to hear from others facing similar dilemmas.

16 Replies

Can you discuss it with your GP? As in what's in place at school and how that actually fits with your situation? It doesn't sound as if they've really taken on board the covid safe thing. As an ex EY teacher I know it would be a case of doing what they can as obviously one can't remove the risk entirely (well they can't anywhere hence the dramatic omg we can't go out til it's safe reactions being a bit pointless...😅) but it doesn't sound like they're doing much really.

GP may choose to sign you off if he/she doesn't think it's safe enough? Or might be able to make some suggestions you could ask about at work.

Hi TeachKat. I was a primary school teacher, now retired thank goodness. I understand your dilemma. If I were still working I know that I would not have been able to keep a distance of 2m away from my children or to seat them 2m apart. My school was a new build and the classrooms are very small.

As you are in the high risk group I would be asking for a referral to occupational health. (In some authorities you can refer yourself.)

They have the power to make adjustments to the workplace or to suggest temporary redeployment. I had to go through their service when I was unable to return to work through illness. They were very good and your employers cannot ignore their recommendations, as if they do they are liable for compensation should things go wrong.

Also, my letter said I could return to work if it was Covid secure ( which I suggest your isn’t) and that I practise strict social distancing, which in my experience is nigh on impossible in a school setting. If yours says the same, I would draw your HT attention to this when asking for a referral to Occupational Health.

TeachKat in reply to Troilus

Thank you! That’s very helpful advice- I had completely forgotten about occupational health! I’ll find out about it- my letter says the same.

Hi TeachKat

I don’t have anything helpful to say, only that I sympathise. I have severe asthma, very poorly controlled since last November. I am not intending to send my 2 children back to school in September. It seems dangerous to be frank. The idea of class bubbles seems like a nonsense to me. Every child in the group of 30+ will go home to at least 1 adult. That adult may have mixed with any number of people. Many have siblings at home, the potential for virus spread looks quite big to me. We are still shielding, despite the change in guidelines.

I am beginning to think that the powers that be are happy to sacrifice a minority group (clinically extremely vulnerable) for the sake of the majority.

You have my full sympathy, you are being put in a very difficult situation. I hope OT can help you.

Tricky times!

MMBJI in reply to MMBJI

I meant OH, occupational health, not OT 🤦🏽‍♀️

I meant OH- occupational health, not OT 🤦🏽‍♀️

I just wanted to say I'm sorry to read your post and completely understand your anxiety. I would feel exactly the same way. Wanting to protect your health and safety is completely separate from how much you love and miss your job. I'm sure you'd be back in the classroom in a heartbeat in a different situation.

What worries me about all the protocols for schools is that they ask things of children that seem impossible. Wearing masks all day, staying several feet apart, not touching one another etc. And so many schools are so poorly funded and cared for, it's hard to believe constant sanitization will be possible for weeks and months on end.

What does your GP say? What are your coworkers doing? Are any of them at-risk due to medical conditions?

TeachKat in reply to hilary39

Hi, thank you for your understanding! In primary schools the government has actually said that there should be no masks and that the children don’t have to even attempt social distancing- which just makes infection more likely. I think that (surprisingly) I seem to be the only teacher who had to shield and I am also the oldest! I am trying to book a phone appointment with my gp, but it’s quite hard to get past the triage! My colleagues are lovely and sympathetic but really don’t get it - when they meet up they don’t social distance at all - I’ve had to make excuses not to go to things because of this.

hilary39 in reply to TeachKat

I keep marveling at how for the 7.5 billion people on earth there seems to the same number of opinions on how to handle COVID :) Everyone has their own idea of social distancing, whether to get together with friends or stay at home, how to behave in groups, when and where to wear a mask, how to shop, who should stay at home etc. etc.

I'd keep pushing to get in to see your GP as it will help for you to be able to go to HR or anyone else at school with an official doctor's point of view about your age and medical issues.

There are so many essential workers stuck in this situation right now all around the world--nurses, doctors, teachers, grocery clerks, transportation workers, etc. who are either in an at-risk age bracket or have health problems that put them at-risk and I don't feel like we've come up with any good answers in spite of having been dealing with this for eight months already! So frustrating.

Keep us posted on how it goes for you and good luck!

Hi TeachKat. HR should be your first port of call to request an occupational health review by a qualified practitioner. You are entitled to this due to your respiratory illness. The review looks at the workplace in light of the risks posed by Covid-19 and your specific health issues. They will recommend reasonable adjustments to the school that will be designed to limit the risk of the virus.

If you are in a union then you can ask them for support.

TeachKat in reply to Poobah

Thank you - I will try HR but the person is still furloughed at the moment and is generally unsympathetic- she tried to block my request for an every day parking pass (I have widespread arthritis) on the grounds that, ‘everyone would want one’! I think I need to speak to my GP first and go armed with what he says.

Poobah in reply to TeachKat

If you do draw a blank with HR then you can use the Access to Work scheme, which is free and provided by the government.

TeachKat in reply to Poobah

Thank you again- I’ll look into that!

I was at work when my respiratory nurse rang to say I absolutely cannot be working and to go home especially in my job (nurse) then I shielded had to fight for furlough as 0 hrs contract as many others. Then went back to work end of july as couldn't afford to pay Bill's but I was having almost panic attacks before went back to work terrified of catching covid-19. I'm still scared and extra cautious and struggle with wearing a mask for 12hrs solid but I'm managing just about also I'm working a 2:1 so as safe as it can be in my job atm. School though have to risk assess you first before you go back and may have to adapt your role to keep you safe. I agree not enough support for shielding patients on returning to work and safety also the high anxiety it causes. If I win the lottery you can have some! 🙂

Thank you, mylungshateme(great name)! It’s really hard to move a class teacher to a safer position, unfortunately! My school is not very helpful- I went in this Tuesday and requested some sanitiser in my classroom, only to be told that I can’t have any because there’s a sink in my room? I wonder if they want me to wash the keyboard and mouse in the sink to sanitise them? The risk assessment is apparently happening next week- rather last minute. I’m expecting to have to get my gp to intervene- I’m still feeling anxious and stressed about it all. Good luck to you!

That's so bad and to leave the risk assessments so late.... as others have said go straight to your gp explain all also have you been in touch with your union? My friends a teacher and had issues as there had been a pupil an staff who tested positive and school were like "it's fine carry on as normal..." her union were great liased with the school they all got tested then have remained open but part time as special school but paid full pay. And she has very very mild asthma and I kid you not she teaches through the classroom window and ta's do the hands on in classroom!!! So there are ways around things. I'm not surprised your feeling anxious with the lack of support your getting. 🙂😷

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