As a teacher of 20 years’ experience in U.K. state high schools, over the last two and a half years I have been repeatedly struck with a mix of outrage and horror, and I often feel very alone in fighting this authoritarian new modus operandi of the human race.
I initially contacted children’s welfare campaign group UsforThem in Autumn 2020, because I shared and supported its views on the obvious and potential harm to children of coronavirus restrictions. With my direct links to a number of different educational institutions, I wanted to offer my experiences and anecdotes. I was delighted and impressed that this campaign group was rationally and successfully ordering its thoughts and arguments within a context that I could barely get anybody even to listen to me. Often I didn’t know where to start in debating other people’s actions.
I never countenanced complying with instructions for my family and me to ‘stay indoors’, to distance myself socially, or to isolate myself or any of my children. In fact, I never gave a moment’s consideration to doing any single thing which would adversely affect the quality of life we had strived carefully to build for our children over many years. We never stopped seeing those friends that would still see us, or our family; we never cancelled a Christmas, changed a holiday plan or backed out of going to the pub or theatre.
I never banged a pot or a pan in my garden. I never covered my face. I politely declined every enthusiastic exhortation to be tracked or to be traced, never leaving my personal details in any of the establishments I visited around the country. I never took any kind of test, vaccine or booster. Neither did I, in any way or at any time, deny the existence of Covid. I did wash my hands a bit more frequently and thoroughly – for a while. On a handful of occasions I accepted a handful of sanitiser, because fighting everyone, on everything, is really, really wearing. I always opened the windows at school and didn’t really mind being colder – it’s amazing to me how many staff fretted about the virus, poked and jabbed themselves repeatedly, kept their distance, but didn’t open the bloody windows! I marched in London to protest against school closures – twice. I wrote to my MP. I signed online petitions.
I challenged hostile staff and aggressive door policies at various Tesco stores in my area, a Waitrose, several other independent shops, and one very angry bus driver, and – usually – ‘won’. I stood up to McDonald’s for refusing entry to my son, and a private dentist clinic, and lost. I complained to my local authority as the employer of two haughty, haranguing and factually-flawed Covid marshals who skulked around my town, and was given the brush-off. I avoided anywhere with excessively aggressive, unpleasant signage – and still do. I am confounded by the lack of knowledge, professionalism, dignity, humility and respect that I have witnessed in so many fields; I cannot begin to imagine how this kind of prejudice and bigotry adversely affected really vulnerable people in our communities.
I took on my children’s different schools and college over a number of issues, including compulsory lanyard-wearing for facemask-exempt students, undue pressure placed on families and students to take LFTs, adults covering their faces beyond any mandated requirement for them to do so, and more. The way that my eldest son’s personal circumstances regarding face coverings were dealt with by his sixth form college was both deeply upsetting and immoral, as well as patently unlawful. When things became difficult for my 11 year-old, by now in Year 7, regarding pressure to wear a face covering in school, we kept him at home until the mandate was removed again. My Headteacher asked me in for chats about my exemption from wearing a face covering and, later, rumours circulating that I was a ‘Covid-denier’; our Safeguarding Lead needed some persuading that vulnerable children still covering their faces in June 2022 likely represents a worsening mental health problem.
As a teacher, I never stood in front of a single child who was being tricked, manipulated, forced or coerced to cover his or her face; I worked with my headteacher to find ways to keep me out of school at those times. Creating the lie that schools were places of danger or hazard for children, and sustaining that false impression for over two years, as well as the ludicrous, unproven notion that face coverings do anybody any good, were amongst the most offensive aspects of it all for me.