Covid 19 and schools
I am involved with a Multi-Academy Trust in a very deprived inner-city area. I am concerned about all families at this time, but my sleepless nights are focused on our children in our community.
Over the last few days, the Trust Board, headteachers and all other school-based staff have had to get their heads around the fact that the Easter holidays are cancelled for the adults, albeit that they are working with fewer children and on a rota. They have been required to put in place arrangements for the children of key workers with, until last Sunday, limited clarity about who those might be. They have also been expected to provide school spaces for the most vulnerable children. In one school this includes a unit for autistic children. Headteachers have been organising and canteen staff are preparing packed lunches, and in some instances, they are giving out food parcels to families. Even this aspect has required a lot of logistical planning with, for example, cones along the various roads to ensure that people stay a safe distance apart when collecting food. We’ve debated whether vouchers would be better as there would be less stigma, but supermarkets are unevenly stocked, and it is difficult for one adult to go out to the supermarket when they are members of large families or where there are vulnerable children. There are no easy answers.
The community that we all serve is a particularly vulnerable one, as are most inner-city areas where economic and social stress are facts of daily life before we even think about the virus. Cases of diabetes are much higher than the national average, especially among the South Asian community which makes up a good proportion of our population. This a risk factor for Covid 19. Accommodation is densely packed into a small area and there are larger than average numbers of people in each house. This makes social isolation much harder. As in many disadvantaged communities, obesity is also high, another risk factor. There will be higher than average incidences of Covid 19 and more deaths as a result.
Headteachers and school staff are very much on the front line and I do not feel that their contribution is being fully acknowledged. They’re taking risks because they have a boundless commitment to their children and families. I have witnessed the cheerful selflessness of the heads that I know at this time and this is no doubt being replicated right across Great Britain and probably in many other countries. Recently, the death of a headteacher in Cumbria was announced. She was described as having no underlying health issues.
People are talking about how things will be ‘when this is over’ as if it will be a matter of weeks or possibly a few months. It won’t be over because it will take many years to re-establish normality. We will be dealing with grief because children have lost family members and maybe because they have lost school and other friends. They may have witnessed suffering that we wouldn’t want any children or young people to be exposed to. The grief will be wider because the world will have changed, possibly in some ways for the better with less selfishness and greed but there will also be challenges to ways of life which we have taken for granted. School communities will need to be rebuilt at a time when school-based professionals are exhausted and maybe suffering their own losses. There will need to be very clever thinking about how to reframe the curriculum and address gaps in children’s learning. A key aspect of this will be to re-establish shared values, to create a sense of common purpose and to recognise the importance of spirituality and what it means to be human.
We’ll all need to play our part in rebuilding society in our own communities and beyond and particularly in supporting children and young people, the bedrock of the future.