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Why schools are on the frontline

We hear from Dr Kirk, Headmistress of St Mary’s Calne on why she believes schools go well beyond education and are an integral part of our society.  Would it be morally unacceptable for schools to go into a second ‘lockdown’?

As we move into the much-anticipated ‘second wave’ of the COVID-19 situation, and those who were only very recently being told that they really must get back to work if organisations are to function effectively are being urged to work from home again, it’s noticeable how the attitude to schools has changed.

Back in March, the Government (eventually, anyway, after what anyone – no matter what their political persuasion – would have to admit was shambolic indecision) decided that schools should close.

This time around one of the Government’s more consistent messages is that schools must not be closed. So, what has changed?

To my mind, the experience of the past six months has thrown into sharp relief the fundamental importance of what schools do for our society. And that goes well beyond simply education – schools are at the centre of their communities and they enable so much of what the rest of the population does to happen.  Schools did an amazing job in March, getting online learning up and running astonishingly quickly and gaining huge experience that will be useful in the future.

In fact, when it came to planning to bring everyone back together on site in September, I was a little concerned. How would the girls react to the measures that we, like every other school, have had to put in place? And how, in particular, would they affect the experience of boarding?

I needn’t have worried on that score. I’m taking nothing for granted about the weeks and months ahead, but anyone seeing the delight on the girls’ faces at being back together – in their year-group bubbles, each in its own boarding house and the sheer energy, fun and sense of community that they generate, would recognise immediately that remote learning, no matter how well done, can only be a short-term solution.

A child’s time at school is short – and the time spent on GCSEs and A Levels even shorter. No, the nation as a whole cannot afford to close schools again without massive economic and social consequences. But it would also be morally unacceptable for the young people involved to do so.

As with so much connected with COVID-19, it’s vital that the right risk vs. reward calculations are done. I know where I stand on this one.

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