Been to the pub yet? Did you manage to get to Debenhams fire sale on Monday? How about a haircut? April 12th was a big day on the roadmap to freedom – one of the major milestones in unlocking society and returning us “cautiously and irreversibly” (B. Johnson) back to pre-Covid normality. In fact it was the third of five milestones. The first was the return of schools on March 8th. The next was March 29th, when outdoor sports restarted. And the next two, as you will doubtless know, are May 17th, when we can mix in each other’s houses, enjoy a pint inside the pub, hotels and venues reopen, and indoor sport is allowed, and June 21st, when all restrictions will cease.
Great that we all know what’s going to be happening in the weeks to come. Except that we don’t. For schools there is no such roadmap out of the tight Covid restrictions we are currently working under. No milestones, no dates, nothing in the government guidance. Just carry on as we are until June 21st and then, presumably, go back to normal, do what we please, all bets are off. That can’t be right can it?
Let me paint you a picture of how things are in school at the moment. The children are all in their class bubbles – English and Maths in the morning, other subjects in the afternoon- all as you would expect them to be. They have play time and lunchtime outside with the other children in their bubble. They eat their lunch at their desks in their classroom. Err….that’s about it I think. I can’t think of anything else to tell you.
A much longer list is the things which they don’t do. They don’t have a daily assembly or act of collective worship (except a recorded video which they watch in class at their desks). They don’t see any children from other bubbles. They don’t eat together with the rest of the school in the dining hall. They don’t get to sing or play musical instruments. They don’t stay after school for sports activities. They don’t represent the school at sport or in other events with other schools. They don’t benefit from having visitors in school. They don’t go on residentials trips. Similarly, their parents can’t come into school to celebrate their children’s achievements in an assembly, or come in to talk to the teacher, or come to a parents’ evening.
All these things in the second list are what makes a school. It’s not just a collection of classes operating in isolation from each other. It is a collective, collaborative, cohesive place. For the children and the staff, it’s a sense of being part of a bigger community and the opportunities that gives you.
We need to get back to that as soon as we safely and reasonably can. And like the rest of society, we need to do that gradually, so that we can assess the impact of each step we take as we reintroduce those vital elements of school life, and remove the restrictions that are making life less than what it could be for our young people.
The silence from the Department for Education is deafening. So we are having to write our own roadmap. Once again schools are being left to work things out for themselves in a vacuum which should be filled with government policy. Here at Caister we are making a start this week. We are surveying our families and staff and we are going to start to remove the first of those restrictions imminently.
School is returning – real school rather than the pale imitation of the last year. I can’t wait.
(For what it’s worth, it’s far too cold here on the east coast to sit outside a pub in April; and we were all at school while Debenhams were flogging off what’s left of their stock….and I haven’t needed a haircut for about 10 years.)