Covid Confusions

The trouble with schools is we’re all too distracted and confused at the moment to function as schools ought to.

I’ve not written for a while because I’m finding it difficult to focus on educational ideas and initiatives which ought to be discussed and developed.  Sadly I’m distracted and I also just don’t seem to have the time.   For most of the summer holidays and since I’ve returned to school it has been Covid, Covid, Covid and little else.  All of the normal start of term activities were taken up with Covid related organisation and planning and since then, it has been all about adapting to changes in guidance, on practically a daily basis and dealing with Covid related fall out. 

Our students have returned in better shape than I thought they would, but it is still early days and issues are beginning to emerge.  Our Child Protection officers have certainly been a lot busier than the usual start of term surge in cases and there are six months’ worth of social media acrimony between students, to deal with.  Now that they are all face to face again, you can guess how that pans out. 

Our teachers and support staff are doing their best; lessons have looked good, but staff are on a high state of alert.  We’ve asked teachers to think about and remember to do so many things related to Covid, that there is no way they are able to focus fully on their tasks at hand.

As a Head, I normally walk around the school and my focus is always on:  ‘What would Estyn (or Ofsted) think if they saw this?’ Now it seems to be: ‘What will Health and Safety inspectors, think if they saw this?’   Before I was focussing on education and wellbeing, now it’s our response to the Covid situation and I walk around with what I call unspecified anxiety disorder (that uneasy feeling you get in the pit of your stomach, which you can’t quite place its origin).   

None of what any of us are having to do at the moment feels right to me.  Of course it doesn’t, we’re in the middle of a crisis, but for me (and these are my own personal opinions), it’s more than that, I am totally confused . . .

I’m confused about the intentions of our UK governments.  For 32 years as a teacher I have witnessed the failure of successive governments to care for our children properly.  For a while I thought it was all going to change when the ‘Every Child Matters’ initiative was launched – what a great name, but did every child matter?  Maybe, but it didn’t appear that way and it still doesn’t today.  My view is especially reinforced, when I talk to other professionals in education, social and health services.  Every child or family related service struggles now, more than I’ve ever known, to look after the children in their care. 

So why should I now believe any government, who is destroying the current lives of young people and ripping their future apart by placing looming years of recession ahead of them. Are they really doing all of this in our best interests?  I really am confused – for years they had money to add additional support for young people in dire need of it, but we saw little of it. , Now they are spending untold amounts to protect us all.   Is there something I don’t know? 

I’m confused because maybe this is a lot worse than the statistics are telling me.  Maybe there is something huge looming on the horizon that they don’t want to tell us about? Please someone tell me.  I’m not so worried about the current virus, I’m far more worried that the Government wants to suddenly help and protect us all at such cost, financially and socially.   Is the end nigh? 

The statistics at the moment wouldn’t seem to suggest it. We’ve had deaths which naturally no one wants, and I mostly understand why the Government had to take the measures it did initially (let’s put aside the care home disaster for the moment), with regards to a new and unknown virus.  But I’m confused because for the entire history of humanity, we have learned to live with death.  Can’t we relearn how to do this?    We have 9 – 10,000 deaths per week in the UK and much higher during the winter months, when respiratory illnesses are more deadly.  We seem to have learned much better now how to cope with this novel virus in hospital, but I’m confused because shouldn’t we celebrating the fact that although cases are rising death rates remain low?  In fact, they’re lower than normal.   People will die and we don’t want that, but I’m confused because people my age are being allowed to make decisions which won’t affect them anywhere near as much as it will their children.  Young people are being called selfish because they are not socially distancing, but is it the decision makers who are the selfish?

These people need to be looking for a balance when it comes to protecting as many as possible, but accepting that there will be some casualties along the way.  I’m confused because we have been put on what seems to be a war footing, where we are being forced into a war we can never win. I’m confused because how can we possibly think another lockdown will rid us of this virus?  It’s with us now and will never ever go away. What it will do someday in the future, maybe a year, maybe 10 is become less virulent, as it learns how to infect us without killing the host.  But, it will always be with us.   So, shouldn’t we be learning how to live with it and doing our best to protect the vulnerable? 

I’m confused by what’s going on with the media?? Even the BBC seems to be hell bent in continually scaring people witless.  It’s almost as if they are willing a second wave to happen.  Of course it will happen!  We have seasonal waves every year and we largely ignore the huge amount of deaths each year.  (50,000  deaths in 2017 – 18 flu season due an ineffective vaccine and a very cold winter).   I’m confused with the media because why weren’t the people of Caerphilly celebrated for acting responsibly and held up as a good example of what could be done to bring the virus under control? Instead when the number of cases in Caerphilly dropped significantly and had continued to drop, there was not a single mention of it.  The media instead moved onto another impending horror.  As a teacher I know the value of praise; the media should be looking for opportunities to give this.  

To what extent are they influencing public opinion and forcing governments and local authorities to take knee jerk reactions? I’m confused by myself most of all because I still read media articles and it makes me want to weep on a daily basis.

In school I’m hugely confused.  Pupils come into our schools and are told to wear masks which they fiddle with, take off, put back on, take off, put back on, oh, and throw away.  In short, their hands are seldom far from their mouths.  Then they go into classes of up to thirty, sit next to each other and are told they can take the masks off.  I’m confused because apparently sitting side by side they are safer than facing each other across a desk, because something I didn’t realise – kids don’t turn their heads sideways to talk to each other.   And I’m confused because when they leave their rooms, they have to put their masks back on again because it protects their bubble.  What bubble??!! Secondary schools don’t have bubbles, it’s just not possible.  I can pretend I do, but all our pupils mix on the way to and from school.  They hug, they fight, they share vapes/cigarettes and they kiss.  They do what kids do.   I’m confused by all this protection in schools, because I think we can all agree, young people are the safest group out there.  There’s no evidence either way, but it would appear that they are also not the spreaders we feared.

Now this might sound cynical, but I don’t want my staff to get ill and have to stay off school and so I tell them they have to protect themselves.   I told them that I could pretend to be warm and caring, but in reality, my main concern was for the young people who have missed 6 months education and who badly need our support.  This is still a new virus and we will easily contract it and while most people seem to have mild symptoms, many will have to take time off and so we do have to limit our contact with each other.   And so I’m confused, because we don’t seem to be trusted to do this sensibly (like Sweden who are trying not to gloat at our growing misfortunes) and instead have to adopt unbelievably confusing isolation protocols.  

We’re under threat of another nationwide lockdown and this makes me even more confused.  How are our immune systems going to cope with all of this isolation from each other.   I’m dreading all of the sisters and brothers of Covid-19 (namely colds and flu) running rife in our communities this winter. 

I’m confused that 7 children can’t go into the countryside and feed some ducks on a lake but a group of 30 or so adults can go and shoot them.   I notice people every day getting into arguments with others, in shops, public transport or wherever people come up against new rules, as our patience is continually tested to the full in all aspects of our lives.  But at least we can take comfort in the fact that there will be more Covid Marshals on the streets to help us all.  Maybe we’ll be given some in schools to knock our pupils into shape?

I feel sorry for the frustrated parents who call us to complain that we have had to send a child home who claims to have symptoms and told them all to isolate until their child is tested.  In many of these cases, we know the child highly unlikely to have the virus and their parents know also, but we have to follow the recommendations (but they feel like rules).

I can go on and on with all the more comical confusions we all face, but you will no doubt have come across them all yourself. 

A close very fit and healthy friend of mine died a couple of years ago.  He contracted a respiratory problem, which turned into pneumonia and he died in hospital on ventilators. I mention this because we don’t know what we are vulnerable to, it could be anything, but that is something humans have always lived with.   This leads me back to the first source of confusion I mentioned: why are trying to protect every person in exactly the same way? Shouldn’t we be doing more to protect those who are genuinely at risk of death should they contract the virus (bearing in mind we will never know fully who these are), rather than concentrating on protecting everyone?  

I guess it takes a brave politician to move that way.  With their many flaws the government has tried to beat the virus and maybe we should credit them for doing their best, but I think now is the time to accept that we won’t beat it.  We are trying to keep people healthy in an increasingly unhealthy way and down to my very core – it just doesn’t feel right.

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