When schools, like the one where I teach English, first closed in March 2020, there was a palpable sense of excitement akin to that end of term feeling in July. The Dunkirk atmosphere appealed to the love of morally superior authoritarianism so entrenched among left-liberals, their competitive need to be seen taking everything more seriously than ‘deniers’.
The only problem was how to keep on condemning a Tory Government, the key requirement for any state school teacher. So powerful is this professional standard that I’ve heard 20-something woke robots bemoan being brought up under Thatcher and suffering inner city riots – one of whom attended Roedean.
Luckily, most teachers quickly became experts in virology, epidemiology and immunology, fit to rival even the great Robert Peston. One science teacher attended our first briefing in what appeared a full beekeeping suit – actually, a NASA ground-crew uniform bought in Florida. This is the same colleague who once asked me how it felt to be in the “minority who voted for Brexit”.
What about the pupils?
Their fears – as young people in an unprecedented situation – got almost no discussion amongst staff. It was made clear that a full online/virtual bombardment of ‘teaching’ was expected. It’s true that some staff made great efforts with previously identified vulnerable children and with key-worker children. But overall, the emphasis on pastoral care was incredibly low.
Very few agreed with me when I argued that lockdown for schools was wrong, that teaching was impossible for most pupils other than face-to-face, so that pastoral care was the priority for us – especially for those from the poorest families. Most seemed to argue that lockdown should continue indefinitely but that the huge damage done could be endlessly attributed to the Government.
Their greatest anger was with the apparent effectiveness of the vaccination programme, especially the idea that Boris Johnson deserved any credit for this. And any tardiness in online deliveries – with positive fury for some poor delivery driver crawling up their path at midnight, gasping with exhaustion but not wearing a face mask.