It is 2030, bored teenagers flip the pages in their history books, stopping at a section labelled “The Covid Crusade”. Nudging their mates, they gawp at the images of Johnson et al, armed with the rhetoric of a war for which they were not present (and would have been at no risk of having fought in if they were) as they denied food to the hungry and asylum to the desperate, urging people to come together and fight a potentially fatal disease by applauding nurses and eating in restaurants.
For those with older siblings who lived through the pandemic, this is nothing new. They were urged to work hard as they never know when their education might be taken from them and they have seen first-hand the devastating effects of an ineffectual government.
Back to 2020. As the term came to a close on Friday, pupils across the country went home hoping for a fresh start in January. Unable to leave their bubbles and stuck in a single classroom for the last three months, for the majority of year 7 pupils the New Year should have been the moment they get to feel like they are finally in secondary school.
For the last month, teachers and staff have worked tirelessly to prepare schools for the January term, by ensuring everything is in place to allow students to move around in the safest way possible. There will be new one way systems, mandatory mask-wearing in classes, as well as corridors and extra time allotted to sanitise desks etc. between lessons, all to ensure our children’s education remains as disruption-free as possible. At 2pm on Friday this came to a grinding halt.
Mr Johnson stepped up to the podium and casually informed us that schools will be unable to open as planned on 4 January. Instead, there will be a “staggered start” where staff and pupils will (hopefully) be back a week later. True to form, this did not come as a single announcement, but in a series of delayed missives, the last of which I (and other teaching staff) received at 6pm on Friday.
With a surge in cases and worry over a more infectious new strain of the virus, Boris Johnson’s government was left with no choice but to force London and many other parts of England into a last-minute lockdown. It feels like only a matter of time before the rest of the country joins them in tier 4 and, like in March, lessons are forced to go online. Wales has already gone into lockdown, earlier than planned, with Scotland also announcing tougher restrictions over Christmas and possibly beyond.
Our esteemed leaders have left us to manage a Christmas of uncertainty whilst they argue with the French about fish
Parents who have survived a year on furlough or are unemployed will have likely bled themselves dry to ensure their children have something resembling a Christmas this year. To tell them now that they face the prospect of children being at home for a further month, with no way for them to work is beyond contemptible; likewise, the 11th-hour announcement has effectively demolished the Christmas of senior teaching staff, who must now rework months of plans in the next 14 days.
It’s hard to imagine a more cynical course of action, but this is the Tory Party – the gift that keeps on giving. If the Boris Show has become a little hackneyed, you can always enjoy the dour stylings of Jacob Rees-Mogg as he looms from the podium and drapes himself over the front bench whilst criticising charity attempts to feed our children as a “political stunt”. Comparable to Scrooge (if Ebenezer were stripped of his passion and bonhomie), JRM has never cried in his adult life and starving families at Christmas is certainly not about to change that.
Of course the Conservative Party is more than just two men and there are MPs out there open to new ideas. In Northamptonshire this week, their Conservative Party circulated an email regarding the important lessons they could learn from the Trump presidency. Namely that “a lie can travel the globe before the truth has put its boots on” and that their social media strategy should now include saying “the first thing that comes into your head [because] it’ll probably be nonsense, but it knocks your opponent out of his stride and takes away his headline”.
Three years ago this may have been concerning, but now – with Trump firmly hoisted by his own fake news – it feels more like your dad excitedly texting to tell you that he’s “just discovered Me Mes”.
Safely ensconced in an ivory tower somewhere out the back of Barnard Castle, our esteemed leaders have left us to manage a Christmas of uncertainty whilst they argue with the French about fish. Ultimately, whatever happens in January we will at least be prepared. Those of us in education got through it once and will do so again – namely because they have left us with no other choice.