Sunday, November 29, 2020
Home COVID-19 Why aren’t we closing schools, the breeding grounds for infection?

Why aren’t we closing schools, the breeding grounds for infection?

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I AM a teacher in a shortage subject. At 62, I am at elevated risk from coronavirus, Covid-19 (not yet deemed to be ‘at-risk’, but watch this space). My dependent mother is aged 90. My husband is 65. My daughter is asthmatic.

Last Friday, I had three pupils with persistent coughs who should not really have been in school at all. Many pupils treated the whole issue as a joke, with stage coughs into their hands, which they then gleefully wiped down the banisters.

No one in my school is currently taking this seriously. There is no plan for mitigating possible infection. There are no hand sanitisers. The cleaning staff have not been mandated to disinfect horizontal surfaces, only door handles and banisters, at the end of the school day. This is not their fault – one told me yesterday that she had only 11 minutes to clean each classroom.

There have been internal memos demanding teachers repeatedly wipe down desks throughout the school day – but we have no supplies with which to do so (in such times, let’s leave out the question of whether it’s our job). There are no measures to control who comes into the school: We should be testing everyone (child or adult) who comes past the gate with a forehead digital thermometer and sending home anyone with a temperature or persistent cough. The reality is that schools are oven-ready Virus Distribution Centres.

Two weeks ago, plans were launched to relax statutory class sizes, thus increasing teachers’ risk of exposure to Covid-19. The Government still stubbornly refuses to shut down schools and colleges, in which we are plainly out of step with much of the rest of the world.

England’s deputy chief medical officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, advised on the Today programme that the closure of schools must be subject to serious scientific scrutiny. Really, Professor, do we not already know that schools are transmission routes for all manner of infections? Or is Covid-19 differently transmissible in schools?

Scratch the surface of this bone-headed refusal and the explanation comes quickly enough: We have to keep children in school so they don’t have to be at home with parents, who may be essential workers, or with grandparents who are old.

Teachers are in reality being used as child care assistants and front-line troops, but without any attention to personal protection or strategies for barriers to infection, nor whether they may be at elevated risk themselves, or living with family who are.

Teaching is an overwhelmingly female profession; younger women are (we are told) at reduced risk, yet yesterday Chris Whitty told pregnant women to self-isolate (just in case). Now who might be pregnant? In spite of all the propaganda out there, I suspect it’s still younger women. 

The Government just might be creative about this (as former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt suggested a week or so ago): If it wants schools open as day care centres for essential workers, then schools should be run as such, with a younger, properly protected skeleton staff, managed by the head and deputies, who are paid big salaries to cope with crises in running their schools. Teaching qualifications are almost irrelevant here: What matters is the risk level staff and their families run. And forget about doing much education; that is nobody’s current priority. 

Over the weekend, I wrote to my principal to say that I would not be in school on Monday, citing risks to my health in carrying on. (Everyone seems to have forgotten about ‘Elf ‘n’ Safety, yet it remains the law that employers must not put their employees’ health gratuitously at risk, which is what Government policy now does). By the end of the weekend, a large screed of Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service-derived boilerplate had arrived, suggesting the possibility of ‘flexible working’.

Meanwhile, parents are voting with their feet. Yesterday, nine per cent of pupils at my school were absent. At one school in London, absences were 25 per cent. In between the chatter and pomposity, it is obvious that the bureaucrats hope they can spin it out for three weeks until schools close for Easter. Do nothing and delay, hope the problem goes away. These bureaucrats reveal their pig-ignorance of basic maths, and the effect of geometric series.

The Covid-19 pandemic seems to have a doubling time of five to six days (if you believe the Government) or as little as four days (if you believe the more reliable sources on the Internet). Three weeks therefore covers at least four doubling times. That means about 16 times more cases of Covid-19. Today, Johns Hopkins University reports 1,553 cases in the UK. By the Easter holidays, expect at least 16 times as many, that’s around 25,000 cases.

Even though our dunderhead Government advisers are abandoning testing (in defiance of the central advice of the World Health Organisation), so that they can pretend that actual cases are lower, I doubt that they will be able to conceal 25,000 cases, and the savvier parents will work that out long before.

School closure should happen immediately. It will happen sooner than you think. The only upside is that we have learned very clearly the real purpose of schools, in the eyes of the Nanny State: Day care. Both parents must go to work. Silly me, to have thought that schools exist for education.

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Anne Meredith
Anne Meredith is a Teacher

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