So! The sensible and steady path from Lockdown to more normal times will soon be opened and we will all begin to take our tentative steps forward. The Prime Minister is right to tailor future moves based on solid data rather than arbitrary dates. Coronavirus is an atheist virus. It did not recognise Christmas and has no intention of changing its habit for Easter. Baby steps rather than a buccaneer’s stride are what is needed and that is what I shall support.
I am delighted that it will be our schools and places of learning who will benefit from the reduction in the R rate, the wonderfully high numbers of those being vaccinated and the fear of the NHS being swamped abating. There is however a problem when we refer to ‘schools will reopen from the 8th March’. Unless you are a parent with a child in learning one could be forgiven, from hearing that phrase, that the school gates closed for the Christmas holidays and will only be unlocked in the early spring sunshine. Those of us in the know know that that is far from the case. Our schools have never fully shut. As the parent of three school aged children (1 at Gillingham High and 2 at St Gregory’s Primary in Marnhull) I have seen at first hand the challenge that teachers have faced into and overcome. Schools have remained open to ensure education is provided to some of our most vulnerable children and to those of key workers. The latter has allowed those key workers to carry on their key work for which, we are all, eternally grateful. We have seen teachers perform an impressive balancing act in delivering both in-class and at-home learning. The qualitative step change in the latter since Lockdown 1 has been amazing. The High School has even delivered a parents’ evening which was slightly akin to speed dating (so I am told having never sped dated) but it worked. Our teachers, heads and governors have kept the learning ship afloat. Teachers preparing and delivering lessons for two parallel universes; receiving completed work both physically, via Teams or email. Responding to pupil’s questions in real time through a virtually raised yellow hand or keeping a weather eye on the chat bar. This has been multi-tasking par excellence. Having been involved with helping to administer the Lateral Flow Tests at Gillingham, Shaftesbury and Blandford high schools I have seen those teachers and pupils in school on a daily basis. They are not re-opening; they have never closed. I fervently hope that this approach means that we have reduced the risk of losing a generation. Having discussed with Heads their plans post 8th March I am hugely encouraged that they are alert to the needs of being hands-on and alert to identify and support those who have found home learning hard. They have monitored them over the weeks. I know that they won’t leave anyone behind.
Of course, it’s not just the teaching staff we need to thank. The support staff who keep the schools clean and covid secure are the unsung heroes. Invidious I know to name check but the work I’ve seen people like Rachel and Tina do in Gillingham, keeping the school clean and the testing hall spick and span, is such important work. To all the Rachels and Tinas in our schools, again, I say ‘thank you’. To those staff who, with little notice, set up covid secure testing centres, mini field hospitals if you will, and their colleagues who have, in good spirits, mucked in and helped out again the heartfelt thanks of parents across North Dorset.
Our local schools are phenomenal places of learning and development. I’ve always believed (having toyed with being one myself) that teaching is a vocation not a career. We have seen the very best these last months and I know we will continue to see it. I fervently hope that society will now see our teachers in a new and respectful light. They are the potters and sculptors helping to create and shape our next generation. Their work is of the utmost importance. I salute and thank them all.