I am told that there is a certain kind of adrenaline junkie who likes nothing more than to take on an obstacle course at the weekend and to get themselves so coated in mud as to be completely unidentifiable to their friends at the end of the experience. As someone who doesn't even like to get his shoes dirty on a winter walk, this isn't my idea of a cup of tea, but it did get me thinking about obstacles - things that get put in our way and which we have to overcome.
Closing school buildings to all except those who absolutely have to be there for their own health and safety (i.e. those for whom home is actually a more dangerous place) would seem to be a fairly sensible thing to do now. The impact on the transmission rate would be significant (as much as -1.5 and, at a time when there are reports of whole COVID wards being full of children - rather than adults, as was the case during the first wave of the pandemic - the evidence is compelling. What then, I wondered, were the obstacles that were stopping the government from acting when it seems to be a bit of a no-brainer.
First, I think there is a perception among the general public that, if teachers are not in school, they must be sunning themselves in their back gardens with a book in one hand and a glass of Prosecco in the other. In reality, providing remote education is a significantly greater challenge, especially when it has to be undertaken alongside preparing for face-to-face classes and providing work for those who don't even have access to the Internet in the form of printed workbooks. So let's be done with the idea that teachers want schools to go over to remote education because it gives them an easy ride.
Secondly, changing your mind has gone from being seen as a sensible response to changing circumstances to something that is completely unacceptable. Taking actions that are probably quite sensible, especially if they involve taking a radically different course, are seen as evidence of not really knowing what you're doing rather than of having the foresight to change one's plans. Now, I am not suggesting that we encourage people to dither around and change the rules every few days as the government seems to be doing at the moment without very much effect, but rather that we give people permission to turn around and head purposefully in completely the opposite direction, almost as if they have heard their SatNav say "make a U-turn as soon as it is safe to do so", i.e. "you're heading in completely the wrong direction."
Third, there is this weird idea going around that education can only possibly happen in schools and that it consists solely of English, Maths and Science with a few other bits thrown in. As I think I have mentioned before, saying that only that which is learned in a school building has value is a bit like saying that in order to make food worth eating, you have to consume it in a restaurant. It was not so long ago that the home was the place where learning happened with only a select few going to school. Now we have a situation where parents abrogate themselves of all responsibility for the children at the school gate and call their teachers to account for defects in their children which are almost certainly down, in part, to their own failings as parents. If we can't go to school for a few weeks or even a whole term, there are many things that can be learned otherwise, even from something as simple as making a meal together, discussing the day's events or sharing in some practical task. God forbid that young people might actually learn to think independently and acquire useful skills rather than soaking up what is, by many, considered to be an out-of-date curriculum loaded with out-of-date values in a building where the ceilings leak and the central heating is constantly on the blink.
So there have it. Please close the schools again Mr Williamson, at least until there's a good chance that we'll remain healthy if we show up there. We're all prepared to carry on working, we promise not to have a go at you for changing your mind and we might learn just as much if not more in the places that are safe for us, whether that is in school if we really can't access our lessons any other way, or at home which is, after all, the safest place for the vast majority of us to be right now.