Swallows, starlings and geese

“A goose flies by a chart which the Royal Geographical Society could not mend.”

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

Rather later than most other animals the School is ever so gradually emerging from (enforced) hibernation. The trees around us have gone from being bare limbed to fully leaved, the blackcaps who nested in the trees on the riverside path have seen their young ones hatch and dispatch.

We can learn a thing or two from birds. They are after all, the experts when it comes to social distancing. Canada geese fly in distinctive V patterns with a regulation gap between each bird so as to gain the most benefit from the updraft generated by their neighbour’s wings(1). Starlings engage in murmuration; massive aerial ballets, swirling and falling in their thousands yet managing to keep their distance and never collide(2). This we are told is to confuse predators and to provide safety in numbers. The recently arrived swallows that choose to sit on roadside telephone cables always leave a little gap between them so as to allow each bird to have space to catch the insects on which they feed(3). Robins, wrens and herons are all territorial, they all have their patches and like to keep their distances from each other to ensure survival.

Distancing regulations are the single most significant issue for us as a school as we re-open. Every child is meant to have their metre exclusion zone. The rule is there for time in classrooms, at break time and indeed should be respected as pupils leave the school. Classrooms start to look smaller when we have to observe distancing rules. Curiously such rules are nationalised, in the UK it is a 2m distancing zone, in the Netherlands there is no distancing. Opinion is divided and we, it seems, are firmly in the middle. This distancing means that we can’t have as many children in school as we would want to. It also generates the most interesting question of all – when will we stop distancing? Perhaps the biggest question is will we be distancing in September and that is a question I simply cannot answer. But it will take a brave politician to decide to abandon the rule for fear of being blamed for a second wave.

Our actions over the last few weeks have pleased some and irritated others. We work in an environment that is ever changing and we are endeavouring to provide the most satisfactory solution for the greatest number of pupils. It is important that we acknowledge that learning can take place in many different ways, it is not simply a matter of listening to the sage on the stage, but it can be equally effective when it is a guide by the side. Some children learn best when we leave them to it, others like to follow instructions. What I believe is that being in school helps children learn the equally important social skills required to succeed in later life. If the pupils of today can cope with the self-discipline required for social distancing, then they will have learned a useful lesson. Overall, most pupils have made good progress while learning remotely. If we are given the chance to see them in school this term, then I believe they will progress even more and in different ways. In the meantime, we all need to be swallows or starlings.

Nicholas Hammond

(1) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5QAjfH05IUE Geese over France

(2) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eakKfY5aHmY This is spectacular stuff

(3) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wpqbjMxiR_k A lovely exercise in slow media