In this blog, our Headmaster, David Holland, discusses the effect face coverings are having on pupils in lessons and asks, 'is it time for a conversation with the children?'
There are many voices dominating the airwaves at present about COVID, the current risks and threats, how we should behave and what we should do. We hear daily from the government, from SAGE, from ‘the Scientists’, the press, and, in education, from the unions.
If I Never See Your Face Again - Maroon 5 ft. Rihanna
Initially, schools were told that face coverings would be recommended in secondary school classes from 8 March until Easter. The recent announcement that they must remain until May 17th at the earliest, because ‘it will help limit the risk of transmission and enable continued monitoring of the effect of school and college returns, as twice weekly testing is established and embedded in pupil’s routines’, has been met with an apparently deafening silence. This follows ‘an ongoing review of the evidence and data.’
This is not a piece denying COVID or the sterling efforts and sacrifices taken by so many for so long to deal with it. More it is asking ‘who is speaking for the children as we go forward?’ There are a number of areas where our children deserve some data or evidence to support and explain the sacrifice they are making on a daily basis.
Kids - Robbie Williams and Kylie Minogue
Education unions want face coverings in class, some even in junior schools; this is understandable, because their role is to look after only teachers, as best they think appropriate.
But has anyone making these decisions spoken to pupils? If they were to do so, what would they actually discover? Speaking to Hill House pupils, almost all buy in with great resilience and maturity to the actions required to combat COVID; how could they not, when the story has been all around them for so long?
It is the case, however that the wearing of face coverings is not at all popular with them: a quick, unscientific survey of a recent class resulted in 100% against the use of face coverings in lessons. All understand the need to deal with COVID, and have responded to the last year with magnificent fortitude, but report many different issues:
- ‘Why do we need to wear them in class when we are already in a class bubble?’
- ‘I get wearing them in corridors when we can be passing other year groups.’
- ‘Why do we need to wear them when we are doing these lateral flow tests twice a week?’
- ‘They are really uncomfortable’
- ‘They make me very hot and I can’t concentrate’
- ‘They steam my glasses up’.
- ‘You (the teacher) keep saying ‘pardon’ and asking me to speak louder.’
- ‘I don’t contribute to class anymore because no-one can hear me and I don’t want to repeat myself’
- ‘it plays hell with my acne.’
Patience – Take That
Most children and most teachers would probably agree with the Year 8 girl (we will call her Jane) who told me ‘I hate them, but if it’s wear it or stay at home, I’ll wear it.’ This is a fine, resilient attitude to have, but it would be good if someone somewhere could show Jane some evidence that the costs are actually worth it.
How do teachers find it? Has the Education Secretary asked them? Not the unions, but the actual teacher in the classroom. From my point of view, as a Headmaster who still teaches, 2 things spring to mind which are fairly pivotal:
- I have to ask around 50% of contributors to repeat themselves and speak up, with all the associated issues this brings for the pace of the lesson and the self-esteem of the pupils;
- It is very hard to tell what emotions are in play in a masked class. Do they understand? Are they happy/upset/bored/ excited?
Following Jane’s excellent lead, I’ll happily oblige if it really helps. But I would appreciate someone showing me the obvious daily and long term cost is worth the benefit, and telling me they understand the drawbacks we face every lesson.
(I've Had) The Time Of My Life - Bill Medley, Jennifer Warnes
Which I am sure is an approach university students would also endorse. Hundreds of thousands continue to have their (£9250 per annum) educations affected; they deserve to understand why non-essential shops can open, pubs can serve outdoors and schools have been back since early March, but universities continue to teach online to all but a handful of practical courses.
Is it that universities are in thrall to their staff unions, their insurers, or the fact that with most terms effectively finishing in early June, it’s just not a battle worth fighting this year? The press and government may major on the wild parties on campus, but the reality of most universities is of students earnestly going about their business but enjoying all the opportunities universities offer, whether academic, social or extra-curricular A whole generation of university students are already anxious about next year, and whether it will be worth going to university in September.
Dancing with Myself – Billy Idol
At the start of this term, a group of North East schools announced they would not play any sports fixtures until June at the earliest. This is despite National Governing Bodies of sports allowing club play from the end of March. This means many enter a second year of no school sport due to COVID. While we may love Joe Wicks for his efforts during lockdown, are we not disadvantaging children whose only opportunity to play competitive sport is at school, and who are not able to take part in club sport?
Who speaks for the school cricketers, athletes and tennis players who can see a second season disappearing in front of their faces? Surely schools can work out how to deal with this? Transport bubbles individually, follow NGB guidelines on sanitizing, not shaking hands and not having match teas? Summer sports are perfect for social distancing; 4 players on a tennis court, bowlers 22 yards from opposition batsmen. Who is speaking for the children who only get this brief time to play sport? Certainly not the unions, the insurers or, apparently, the government.
Don’t You Forget About Me – Simple Minds
Clearly we need, and, god willing, seem to be managing, to deal with COVID, but at what expense to the all-round education of our children? I worry that we will look back in a few years at record numbers of cases of mental and physical health issues among our young people, and wring our hands that not enough people stepped up at the time to bat for the children.
Where the government, press, unions and insurers would seem to prefer that we stayed in, surely it is the role of the educators, the schools, the teachers, the heads to ask some searching questions on behalf of their children.
Do politicians and union bosses, very few of whom have been in a classroom for decades, know the educational costs of face coverings in lessons? Are they guilty of assuming the benefits outweigh the costs? Do the insurers and adults, who haven’t played school sport or sung in a choir or acted in a play for 30 years, and may have hated it when they did, understand the feelings of belonging, achievement and happiness these activities can bring? Are schools ‘natural vectors of transmission’?
COVID is real; the results have been devastating for many families in this country and the world. Steps taken to deal with it have often been heroic and selfless. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have a proper, informed conversation about the ongoing effects on our children, rather than continuing making policy decisions by stealth or apathy.
Children and parents don’t get representation through a union. Maybe they should. Until then, schools and school leaders are all they have got…….