Welcome to the Twilight Zone. After forcing everyone out of work and school and into isolation for the last couple of months, the government has decided that it is safe for children to go back to school from June 1st.
I say decided, but from the the dictionary definition of ‘bring resolution as a result of consideration’, I’m loathe to lend such terminology to what they have done. They have suggested that perhaps- without sufficient scientific evidence that it is biologically safe for kids to return to school- parents might want to make some potentially life and death decisions without relevant information.
They’ve also suggested that headteachers of schools may wish to bring disciplinary action against teachers who, for some odd reason, don’t fancy doing their already stressful jobs in a dystopian bubble of disinfectant, security tape and Daily Mail headlines that have become so parodical it would be hard to create spoofs.
The use of PPE such as face masks has been flagged by the government as beneficial, “when in close contact with people you do not usually meet and where social distancing and other measures cannot be maintained.” This, however, “doesn’t apply to educational settings”. Presumably this is because the virus hates the smell of whiteboard pen or maybe the corona-classroom featuring stark grids of desks topped with worksheets and devoid of soft furnishings, toys or other engaging materials, is such a mind-numbingly awful environment that the virus will jump out of the classroom window, lemming-style, at the first chance.
Parents have recently been forced to replicate some of the worst aspects of school at home, with none of the positives. Instead of taking a sensible view of the situation and letting parents know that their children are not going to end up as ineffectual, stagnated no-hopers from missing a couple of months of school, and that parents should focus on mental wellbeing and maintaining an income during this time, the government has allowed teachers to run themselves ragged sending out ‘learning packs’ for parents to battle with their children over.
I did wonder if this was some kind of deliberate attempt to make the prospect of home education so appalling that no parent would ever consider it in normal circumstances, but I’ve concluded the authorities are simply so inadequate that not even they know what they were doing.
(Let me just get this over with: “would you prefer Labour, then, huh, huh, would you, you massive snowflake?” I would prefer competent, qualified, honest people to be in charge of important decisions that affect millions of people, and for the political realm to be more than an endless, weird kind of Punch and Judy theatrical nightmare. Moving on.)
Of course I’m not sure what we should have expected in these circumstances given that our Education Minister, Gavin Williamson, is woefully unqualified for his position. Naturally, the correct and moral career move for someone sacked from their previous role (as Defence Secretary) is to switch titles. I mean, if you’ve found someone deemed incapable of managing the defence of a nation, why not put him at the helm of the futures of millions of children?
Even if Williamson had completed his previous role adequately, it would scantly qualify him for any career in education, having no professional experience in either a school or home education. Never has this been more obvious in his ‘phased, cautious return’ plan and the incredible gaslighting of parents across the UK. ‘Trust in me’, hiss the whispers between his notes, like that dodgy snake from the Jungle Book; ‘I am cautiousssss.’
Excuse me, but the ‘5 key criteria’ for allowing children back to school seem to be really five parts of one criterium, which is that the NHS is ready for more people to turn up dying. We don’t know that it’s ‘safe’ for children to return; it is however convenient for the higher-ups.
I have to give credit where it’s due, for the A+ rhetoric that is being churned out to parents at the moment by ministers. “The lockdown itself is harmful- socially, economically and for health”. Well, thank you for pointing out what every single person already knows. Of course there are downsides to lockdown. This is no picnic and sadly for some children, school- even as it is now- is the safest place to be.
However, there are also a huge number of children who have absolutely thrived during lockdown. Experienced home educators are supporting many parents who have found that their children are less anxious, happier and more open to learning now that they are not at school. This begs the question- if children are happier and more relaxed during a global pandemic than at school, what on Earth does this say about our education system?
Some children love school; others tolerate it, and some hate it. For some families school is necessary; for some it’s useful and some families it’s fairly irrelevant. The Venn diagram of these demographics is complex but I think it stands as a signal that now is the time to start two conversations.
One: how do we create, as a society, paradigms where all of these groups are fully supported? And the second: why isn’t the work being done to make schools fit for purpose- that is, pleasant and effective places to work and learn for everyone within them? Teachers, after adapting to their new roles at lightning speed, have been rewarded with blackmail if they don’t return to their biohazard workplaces. Perhaps Williamson’s previous role as Chief Whip did give him some tools for this job, after all.