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Unsustainable


I've kept rather quiet over these past few months, mainly because I am still getting over having had a very nasty accident just before the start of term. I would have been able to start back at school soon - it's twelve weeks since I smashed up my shoulder - but one of the 'adjustments' that Occupational Health recommended was that I should have my own room so that I wasn't forever carting all my worldly possessions around the school. That would burst all the COVID bubbles in school, so it's more waiting for me.


It was less than four weeks ago that I was finally able to raise my right arm. "Right!", I thought, "let's get back to the classroom ...". But, if getting back to work was running then feebly raising my arm above my head didn't even count as crawling. My physiotherapist told me so.


All of which got me thinking about sustainability. There's not much point setting out on any course of action if you're only going to be able to make it partway. If you lined me up with the elite runners at the start of the London Marathon I might be able to get to the 365-metre mark ahead of all of them ... but no further. I'd collapse in a heap as Sir Mo Farah and the like filed past me to run another 26 miles.


There are so many areas in which our lifestyles are unsustainable. We spend money that we don't have, we make more demands on peoples' time, especially in the workplace, than we ever have done, we throw around 30% of the food we buy in the bin - only this morning I had to throw out a punnet of strawberries that had gone mouldy whilst 'lost' in deep recesses of the fridge. We are, in many ways, flogging what is at best a barely conscious horse. "Stop the World, I Want to Get Off!", as the title of the musical first performed in 1961 says.


The mantra that schools should remain fully open come what may is also unsustainable. Please don't misunderstand me; I'm not saying we should send everyone home to put their feet up. I have colleagues who are preparing three lessons (shielding, live and remote classes) where they would have only prepared one in ordinary circumstances, so any suggestion that they want an easy life is ridiculous. But we do need to be realistic in our expectations of the kind of education can be sustained in a scenario where someone dies of COVID in the UK every two minutes. As I am writing this, the announcement has just been made on Radio 4, that the grim milestone of 50,000 deaths has been passed today and that we are ahead of the USA, France and innumerable other countries in the rich world in terms of the number of fatalities per 100,000. In the first wave I knew of people who had been affected, and one who had, sadly died. Aquaintances, maybe. This time around, it's colleagues and friends. My daughter, although she didn't contract the disease, spent all but three days of October shut away in her student accommodation having come into contact with two positive cases.


We need to agree on a way forward for schools now that is safe, secure and sustainable. A system of blended learning to limit the number of people on-site each day, reduce class sizes and make social distancing in schools a possibility. Yes, there will be issues for some parents who cannot work from home and there are still some young people who need to be given the technology to access remote learning. Yes, teaching while staring at a camera, not even knowing whether there is anyone watching or listening is far from ideal - I know, I did it for four months in the summer. But the alternative is that we allow the whole show to grind to a chaotic, juddering halt as pupil and teacher illness takes its inevitable toll.


We need to take a look further down the road and see where all this is heading. I, for one, can see lots of flashing blue and yellow lights. We need to slow down.



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