The government guidance for reopening has shown us our place!
Over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic we have learnt a lot about the role of schools in our society.
No longer can we consider ourselves simply as educators of children, we may have suspected it before, but now it is clear, we send children to school to keep them out of the way of economically productive adults.
We are the national babysitting service!
It is all too clear that the government regretted their decision to close schools to all but key-workers.
Ever since they have found themselves battling against their own social distancing rules to reopen them. The guidance for reopening fully in September has made it equally clear that schools will be kept open, at almost any cost!
To paraphrase the 18,000-word guidance document: do whatever it takes to get all children back to school and if anything can be done to make things safer, please do it.
I have never seen such liberal use of the phrases ‘wherever possible’, ‘if possible’, ‘where possible’ and ‘is not always possible’ (there are 60 incidences I could include).
Following the Prime Minister throwing care home workers under the bus in July by indicating the care home mortality rate was their fault for not following the guidance, how long before schools are blamed for an increase in the transmission rates for not following guidance starting ‘wherever possible’.
Much of this guidance also gives the impression of tokenism. For example, the enforced separation of children into class or year group bubbles is likely to have a very limited impact given children naturally segregate themselves in this manner.
The bubble system could be simplified to being a ‘no assembly’ rule. Allowing teachers to move freely between bubbles is also very pragmatic to ensure PPA and staff cover can continue, yet for teachers who provide the cover, there will be a sense that they are not being afforded the same protection as the children.
Similarly, while the segregation of bubbles must be enforced during school hours, there is no such requirement for breakfast or after-school clubs.
Schools will be keeping children separated through the school day, only to allow them to join together on the school premises after hours. Once again, we see expediency in providing wrap-around-care to enable traditional working patterns at the expense of safety guidelines.
In short, they have recognised that it is not possible to open schools with the same safety standards that the rest of the country are entitled to. They are gambling on children being more resistant to the illness, and making staff collateral damage in the process.
The guidance suggests this is now possible because the prevalence of the illness is lower and the test-and-trace system is now up and running, but evidence suggests that they simply cannot open fully without accepting these risks.
Even at the best of times, schools should not work – the idea of thirty (or more) children in the care of one of two adults and all crammed into a small room is something that can only function because schools have been honed and streamlined over years.
If they ‘break’ school, it is not a simple task to put it all back together again. With this in mind, if the priority is for schools to be open to all children full-time, they need to work in as similar a way as possible to how they did before – whatever the cost.
Louis Walker is a primary school teacher.