It’s not over yet. The school year, I mean – not the virus.
It sounds like the virus could be around for some time, part of the atmosphere we share, the sense of crisis in the world.
It’s brought out the full spectrum of symptoms of dysfunction in society: antisocial behaviour soared fourfold even before the easing of restrictions in our own backyard.
The self-important have strutted and tutted about all manner of things without checking facts, as usual, self-absorbed and oblivious to the impact on others and the waste of energy all round. The moral high horse has cantered around like a wild stallion let loose. Social media swells like organ bellows, blaring at highly unsociable levels and at all hours of the day. Political performances have become parodies of themselves, issuing seriously intended soundbites possessing little real sense or meaning. Garbled often seems the lingua franca for policy communication.
The Kraken Wakes, the1953 novel by John Wyndham, is worth a fresh read. It plays out like a metaphor for the darkly dysfunctional days we are living – complete with a prophetic portrayal of fearful attack by an unseen enemy, international blame games, climate change, science and government interplay, fearful refugee movement and global economic shockwaves.
What has been equally striking is the quiet, unrelentingly positive activism: our wonderful NHS colleagues just doing the job they trained for, showing their true vocation and commitment over and above – as has the education service.
Communities have come together in so many ways, with the vulnerable protected from the failure of government to provide by groups offering food, care and support. It speaks volumes of weaknesses in our social infrastructure that this has been necessary and murmurs distinctly if you listen carefully that perhaps the pursuit of money, power and egotism are anachronistic in this situation, if they were ever to be admired before.
It has indeed been the best of times and the worst of times.
If it’s been bad for all of us grown ups – and it has truly been a tough year – then it’s not yet become clear how bad it is for children and young people.
Many of our colleagues have reported enjoying the relief of some return to normality, provided under difficult circumstances with considerable effort all round. One head teacher mentioned the sheer joy of seeing small people skipping down the pavement on their way to school, after endless weeks of empty streets in the morning. More and more children are back in the right place and happy to resume education as a cornerstone of their interrupted childhood.
Schools have quite rightly made decisions locally, based on the “art of the possible” – almost despite the sound and fury emanating from No.10 and the DfE – producing guidance marked ‘Distant from Everyone’ in reality.
Being at home in 2020 has less to offer childhood, it sometimes seems: even without the oddity of amateur education at the kitchen table, which has had the unexpected side-effect of increasing respect for the teaching profession.
More and more, we expect non-adults to adapt to adult ways, with less and less time for personal involvement in play, stories, silliness and so on.
During the lockdown, this has been even worse for many children: adult stress and tensions have escalated. The impact on our own friends and family has not been trivial, with irritation bubbling up unexpectedly, the illness itself visiting our doors and a quick chat glossing over the reality of redundancies kicking in from the first weeks.
So, none of us is under any illusion that next year is going to get any easier. Especially if we all have to look in the same direction…. sometimes it’s better to avert your gaze.
Economic hardship and instances of domestic violence have soared: children have had no respite from bearing witness to adult insecurity, abuse of power, fear and pain right there before their eyes.
That’s all going to show up in September, along with new kids on the block – we’ll all be blinking nervously until they realise one day at a time that they are back in safe hands at their new school.
It’s pretty obvious to say that schools will struggle to cope with insufficient recognition of these issues, insufficient funding, insufficient support and guidance: there’s nothing new here, except the toll it has taken on everyone. We will all indeed struggle as a public service to overcome everything which life, society, government policy and the entire galaxy throws our way.
And no doubt it will all work out in the end. Leave it be for now. Well done you and you and you for what you have done this year.
It’s been fantastic to work with you this year and I wish you all the most well-deserved rest from the fray.
A rest is as good as a cure.