Pandemic pensées. Feeling kinda blue…
It’s proving to be a very strange time, this lockdown stuff. We can do some things, but not others. In many ways, it’s the restrictions on life in general that begin to wear thin at times. Stoicism enables some resilience and we’re lucky to have a garden and countryside within a few minutes’ walk, so we can occasionally “escape” to wander and see and hear the wider world.
Occasionally, the desire for some normality, like stopping for a coffee can weigh a little, but then thought of the front line NHS workers put that into perspective. We all have to be grateful for everything that they have done, often in near impossible situations.
Passing total strangers, with them either wishing to have some contact, at a reasonable distance of course (walking poles are an excellent guide) or, as we encountered recently, an elderly lady totally turning her back as we passed, because she was afraid. There are reasons to be fearful, especially as the Government has spoken often about asymptomatic cases of Covid19. You look healthy, not showing any signs, but do you have it or have you had it (mildly)?
It’s the not knowing all the details, despite reading as much as possible and preferring to listen to the “experts” that leaves residual concerns.
Politicians have a different agenda. They have to show that they are in charge, because that’s their job. Being in charge means telling others what to do, which is probably easier in a totalitarian state. It can appear as if today we are moving further towards that, rather than the more liberal state that we have known.
Lockdown, to a large extent, shows how people will comply. It also showed the fear, in panic buying, although it is arguable that this was simply sensible, given the potential that, at any point, a family could be required to be in a two week quarantine, reliant on neighbours if family members weren’t close.
So we have endured six weeks of lockdown, at a prescribed distance from others, seeing the best of neighbourliness and friendship; watching out for signs of distress, checking on food supplies, or, in our case, also acting as a mobile library for a housebound elderly friend. It’s proving beneficial to have kept books that have been read; they can be lent. As she is an artist, they are also giving food for thought as she seeks inspiration in isolation.
So what’s life for most of us reduced to?
Basic essentials; food, drink, sleep, gardens/exercise, reading, TV, texts and calls to keep in touch. For some, these have been in short supply, so neighbourliness has also included checking on those essentials; schools have become ad hoc food banks, free school meals interpreted as food hampers by some, bypassing the Government vouchers. Handing over food is a means of also checking how things are. Vouchers can be remote and they didn’t work properly, at all, for a few weeks.
Schools have worked exceptionally hard to accommodate the learning challenges of remote teaching and learning; setting up platforms and communication systems, checking and seeking to address home internet and hardware needs (the latter probably easier than the former), phone checks on children’s well-being and how they are managing with set tasks. It’s been very time consuming, in a different way to normal planning and classroom activity. Much of this will prove beneficial in what will inevitably become the “new normal”.
Since their inception, schools have been based on the class or year group of children, with various organisations over that time, from the large groups with monitor teachers that are now organised as a class of about 30 with a main teacher and a full or part time assistant.
Will we see whole class teaching in the near future? As a school Governor and as a grandparent, I am as concerned as anyone to consider this.
Classrooms, since the 60/70s have been based on a notional 55sq m as the basis size. This has been interpreted over time in different ways. The larger part of my teaching life was in a scola build, a mid-1970s incarnation that included the walk-through spaces as a part of the 55sq m. The class bit was about 35 sq m, so corridors were part of the teaching space. I use this as an example that not all schools have the same accommodation. This will include corridors that will vary in width.
Entrance doors vary from those with handles to automatic entry points. Some need handling, others don’t. This has an implication for hand and surface hygiene before entry and then at all points of the day.
Playtime is a social gathering time. This is when mingling might occur. Breaks are also the time when most schools ask children to go to the toilet, again a mingling, messing about, time. Maybe children will need to be allowed to go to the toilet singly during “lessons” instead?
We are now in May and there’s speculation that schools will be asked to open in June, so timescales are relatively short, to take account of the broad range of needs to be accommodated.
There are many permutations of how things can be organised and every school will, no doubt, be trying very hard to work out what is best for everyone. Pressure will grow to open fully, to enable parents to go back to work, but that might not be safe in the short term and safety, of everyone involved has to be paramount. There’s no benefit in exposing everyone to a rapid, second spike in the virus.
There are a number of options that immediately spring to mind.
- Maintain the status quo. Keep teaching remotely for as long as is needed, bearing in mind that a number (different in each school) will not be fully accessing or participating in learning.
- A full return. This would prove virtually impossible in the majority of organisations. Maintaining social distancing, whether defined as 2m, 1.5m or 1m, unless every child was expected to wear a face covering and teachers offered some kind of PPE; maybe wearing a face visor would be mandatory? Guaranteeing hand hygiene would be impossible and all tables would need to be wiped down assiduously. Would children move between lessons, causing corridor mixing, or teachers move to classrooms? There will be a difference between Primary and Secondary. Many will see this as near impossible in the short term.
- One year-group back as a whole, which seems to be the politician articulation of what will be expected? Take the example of a one form entry school, of seven age groups and an example class of 30/32 children. Classroom space of 55sq m is likely to allow 6-8 children to be accommodated in one space, so this will take four classrooms and require four adults. There wouldn’t be space for any other year group as a whole to attend, so attendance patterns would be a seven-day rotation. There would be a continuous need for every year group to do remote teaching for the days where children were not attending.
- One group of eight children per year group? Morning only. Afternoons then available to teachers to plan and catch up with remote learning. I have tweeted that this reminds me of my 1974 integrated day planning, in that large classes of 40 children required organisation into groups for needs, so there was an element of remote or independent activity between formal teaching and catch up.
The key teaching day for essential information was on Friday, giving the weekend as a distillation period, with Monday to Thursday attendance in groups for teachers to do essential overlearning for some and guidance/additional challenge for others? Groups would attend on the same day each week, except for essential worker children, who will require a continuous provision of oversight on set learning, plus additional social activities, for however long this situation has to last.
Which groups come in on which days? Vulnerable learners on Monday, to secure learning that they can then do independently, maybe with a check in/reprise on Thursday?
The main focus for the three hours attendance was Maths, English and Topic (30 minutes each) with time then given to a social activity like art, for some as therapy and a chance to chat?
Schools are between the inevitable “rock and hard place”. Whatever organisation is put in place, there will be inevitable complaints. There needs to be a political acceptance that every school will be doing its best. It will do no-one any good to know that “the school down the road does x”. That school’s facilities may differ greatly. Locality communication will be essential, to seek to minimise that pressure.
At some point in the near future, as a Governor, I will be involved in discussions about plans to restore some element of face to face direct contact with children, ensuring that safety is paramount. Teaching is a people job, it’s also a social role. Getting close to children and their needs is the essence of good teaching and learning. We have to safeguard all adults in schools and monitor carefully any potential adverse consequences of these initial decisions.
We could try to hope that, for a week or so in July, some element of normality might be possible, maybe whole days and a chance to ensure transitions are managed for September. No-one should be over-confident that this will happen. It will be a case of envisaging and planning for all eventualities.