Who’d be a politician during a pandemic? Whilst it isn’t a particularly fashionable view, I have the utmost admiration for anyone who chooses a political career when it is motivated by a desire to improve the lives of others. Many have pointed to the success of female leaders in this time of crisis which can only be an inspiration to our young people. When I was at school, I thought that being an MP or similar would be a fantastic job but right now I wouldn’t be rushing to stand for office, even if there was a party that I thought would accommodate my own particular blend of views. As Édouard Philippe said earlier this week, he is in a no-win situation. He oversees an economy that needs to be restarted and has responsibility for keeping citizens safe. A tough balancing act to accomplish successfully.
Thank you to all parents who completed the intentions survey. It is useful to have a guide, however vague as to the number of pupils we can anticipate joining us once school opens. Little is certain with regard to the process of reopening other than it is likely to be phased and will include regular interludes for handwashing. We are receiving advice from Éducation nationale regarding pupil safety and will not be announcing any details about resumption until after the announcements scheduled for 7th May.
Whilst I wouldn’t be a politician at present, being a parent feels similar. All families have to weigh up risk and benefit when contemplating a return to school. Same decision, different scale. Any child attending school will (almost certainly) be at greater risk of infection than a child who stays at home. As a consequence, families choosing to keep children at home will continue to be able to access remote learning materials and these materials will form the basis of our offer in school. We will operate in a very different way. Drop off will be phased or staggered. The school day may be shorter. There will be one-way routes around the school and distancing of one metre will have to be observed. We will not be playing ball games at break time and access to the school library will be severely limited. Teachers will be wearing masks and pupils will have to remain at their desks or in designated areas. Much of what we currently enjoy will be curtailed. Temperature checks will take place at points of entry and those displaying symptoms will have to return home. Most upsetting of all, I can’t promise chips on a Thursday. It looks like sandwich lunches to be eaten “al-desko”.
This is a time of mixed emotions for families. We should be prepared for turbulence in the coming weeks. Our community is a resilient one. I know that decisions are made by individual families considering the safety of others and the School will do all it can to protect those who choose to attend. These are difficult times, but we are stronger when we are together in isolation.
There is a scene in the movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” where the former bank robbers take a job guarding a silver mine in Bolivia. The grizzled, world weary, tobacco spitting manager tells the pair that the trip up the mountain guarding the payroll is far safer than going back down the mountain(1) . I was given similar advice on a hill-walking course; apparently more accidents occur in the final kilometre of a walk than anywhere else on route. Going up the hill (it seems) has its challenges but coming down can be even more dangerous. Over the past few days we have been hearing a good deal about flattening curves and peaks being passed. This is all great news. However, we are still far from seeing the end of these challenging times and now, perhaps more than ever we must be both patient and prudent.
Earlier this week the Education Minister spoke about the possibility of schools opening in the week commencing 11th May. Like any politician his canvas is necessarily broad, and we are only now starting to find out exactly what school opening will look like. For some, school will not be open until the end of May and others will have to wait until June. If the infection rate grows then we may all be confined once more. Some regions may open before others. The only thing that is certain is, well, uncertainty. I can’t imagine that we will have pupils coming through the School’s gates on 11th May, indeed other pronouncements suggest this will be a day for staff preparation, with pupils returning later in the week. As yet we know nothing about the conditions of a return, will it be masks or no masks? What social distancing will be required? What will we be able to serve for lunch? The last one is straightforward – sandwiches for the first few days at least. There are most certainly more questions than answers and I hope that the entire community can remain patient as we work out what is possible and above all what is safe. We do not want to create more problems for the medical services by returning to school before it is wise to do so.
Thank you for the many positive comments about our remote learning arrangements. It is good to see that so many of our pupils are benefitting. It is also clear that there are many parents who should be considering a career change such is the excellent support being offered on the home front. As the weeks roll on we hope to make greater use of the more dynamic elements of the platforms that we are currently using. I am fairly certain that even when we return we will be making use of the lessons learned from remote school in our daily approach
Helen Keller said, “We could never learn to be brave and patient if there were only joy in the world”. Sadly, we are likely to be living alongside COVID-19 for many months to come. Despite the slowing of infection rates, I suspect that we will face challenges, disappointment and frustrations during this summer term. We need to take care. We need to continue to work together to remain safe. We need to be equally cautious and optimistic. This will be a term like no other, but it will be a term in which we are likely to learn more about ourselves, our strengths and frailties. As a community and as individuals we will be stronger than ever before if we remain together in isolation.
1. Having found the clip in question it seems that my memory has failed me – apparently up the mountain is dangerous, Butch and Sundance just think that down the mountain is dangerous (about 1:30 into the film)
“Boredom is when there is absolutely nothing to do. Lethargy is when there are things to do that you can’t be bothered doing. Most people suffer the latter, but they call it the former because it lets them off the hook.”
This week I could write a very short column and sum up all that really needs to be said in two short words. Eight letters would suffice. I’m not going to do that because I think the community as a whole should be recognised more fulsomely for all that has been achieved in the last three weeks and let’s face it, I’m at my desk with nowhere to go.
It turns out that novelists and film makers don’t quite have it right. We have been told in many stories that when the world faces a crisis, communities disintegrate, and anarchy follows. As yet, in this quiet corner of Croissy I have not had to fight off looters threatening to ransack the house to find our secret stash of lavatory paper. There have been no reports of shopping cart hijacks outside the local Carrefour. From what I can see via the media most places seem quite calm. We must all hope that such rationality continues.
This has been a time when neighbours have introduced themselves and have sought to help each other out. People around the world have posted amusing parodies on social media and A listers have turned their talents to reading bedtime stories and sonnets. Who wasn’t touched by stories of New Zealanders putting bears in their windows to entertain younger children denied a trip to their favourite play park? Thank you Michael Rosen for We’re going on a Bear Hunt and for reminding us that we’re not scared. If our pupils have learned anything since this whirlwind struck it is that we are better off working together than looking out for ourselves. Will they have the courage to continue to live this way once confinement is over?
Perhaps I have been doing this job too long. There is a danger of cynicism creeping in. Who would have believed that Year 13s and Year 11s would have continued to study without the shadow of looming exams to motivate? They have and hats off to them, they have studied and learned for learning’s sake. Who would have thought that pupils of all ages would embrace their remote schooling and engage with study as successfully as they have? Shame on me for doubting, I should have known that BSPers are better than that.
And now we have to meet another challenge. The holidays, usually a time to switch off or do different will not be normal this time. Yes there will be some time for lie-ins and the rhythm of the school day will not be there to structure the day, but having seen the way that the last three weeks have been approached I can cast cynical thoughts aside. I’m issuing a challenge to all of our pupils (and any interested parents) to meet the demands of the Headmaster’s Housebound Holiday Challenge, to go above and beyond what they would normally do in downtime in eight demanding categories. Over the next two weeks we have the chance to learn skills that may well last for a lifetime. From learning a Shakespeare speech, to knitting by way of acts of kindness you can gain a prestigious accolade and will be able to show off for the rest of your life whatever it was that you learned to do while in confinement. If you are to complete the challenge, then structure will be required. Bear in mind the words of the monk Christopher Jamison. Structure is the enemy of lethargy; if you create a rhythm for the day and ensure that time is differentiated by activity then this holiday will be both enjoyable and productive.
Thank you all for the last three weeks. We have truly shown what can be achieved, what wonderful things can be achieved when we are together in isolation.