Won’t somebody think of the children? The government’s school Covid rules are a mess

Lots of schoolchildren are spending more time at home with their families. Please can Gavin Williamson do the same?

Andy Parsons
Thursday 01 July 2021 16:51
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<p>Schools are facing disruption in final weeks of term</p>

Schools are facing disruption in final weeks of term

Your mobile phone rings and you look at who the caller is. Suddenly you freeze. It is your child’s school or nursery. You find yourself in the middle of a mini panic attack. Not today. Please not today.

You fantasise about answering the phone and saying that you are now working miles and miles away and that it is absolutely impossible to pick up your child until much later in the day. You quickly realise that this is going to be a difficult line to sustain given that it is widely known that you are currently working from home and you only dropped your child off 20 minutes ago.

So you answer the phone, rationalising that it might just be something innocuous such as your child has left their PE kit in the back of the car and please could it be dropped off. But that has only been once in 10 years. Every other time it has been a contagious-looking rash, or diarrhoea, or playground injury, or sports injury that has been vastly exaggerated because your child doesn’t really like gymnastics but does like a bit of drama and sympathy and is hoping that they might get to go home to play with their new Nintendo Switch.

Or the most prevalent at the moment; somebody in your child’s class "bubble" has tested positive on a lateral flow test for Covid-19 meaning your child will now need to isolate at home for 10 days.

The latest Department of Education figures show that 375,000 kids are self-isolating when there are only 15,000 confirmed cases. That’s one in 20 of all schoolchildren off school. If you come into UK from amber country you can "test and release" after five days – but there is no test and release for a child who may have been sat miles away from the positive case, never plays with the positive case, even actively dislikes the positive case.

It is these inconsistencies that get to you. The government say you should not go to amber list countries and yet there seems a novel way out if you do. Amber to the government means “don’t go” which seems poor messaging when to most people amber means “foot down, let’s go”. Classrooms can have social distancing as well as doors and windows open. Aeroplanes don’t and can’t.

New rules announced by the government say there is also an exception to not having to quarantine if the individual is likely to provide a “significant economic benefit”. Think of the economic benefit of 30 families not having to look after children for a whole 10 days.

The rise in school self-isolations has been fuelled by the Delta variant. Think of the economic benefit to the country of putting India on the red list three weeks earlier rather than chasing an illusory trade deal.

We now have a green watchlist category which is supposedly somewhere in between green and amber. Perhaps we could also have an amber watchlist category for countries that were green but should have been red if Boris Johnson had got his arse in gear.

The inconsistencies in test and isolate strategies in the UK can be stark. It is extremely difficult to visit your loved one in hospital, and yet we have swanning into the UK, without isolating or quarantining, 2,500 Uefa officials including sponsors from Coca-Cola, Gazprom, Qatar Airways and TikTok.

All this in a week where online videos have shown kids faking a lateral flow positive test by dipping the test-stick in a variety of soft drinks. You don’t want 30 kids off school for 10 days just because the class idiot has drunk some orange juice and then touched the swab on their tongue instead of their tonsils.

The education secretary, Gavin Williamson, has said he has plans for Covid testing in schools and for school bubbles – but then he said he had plans for school exams. He set up a commission to ensure struggling schoolkids could recover learning lost during pandemic and then the government funded it with merely 10 per cent of what the head of the commission thought was required, leading to his immediate resignation.

Williamson also threatened to sue schools who closed due to Covid outbreaks and made them open, often for only one day, before then ordering them to close for three months.

He is now saying school exams in 2022 will need to be adjusted. It certainly seems ambitious to be worrying about next year, when he’s still in the middle of arseing up this year. He’s also blathering on about mobile phones in schools when parents are most worried about children in schools - and children self-isolating at home playing with parents’ mobile phones.

I would love to phone Williamson myself, and having seen that both Johnson and Dominic Raab’s mobile phone number have been on the internet for years, I am hopeful that I may be able to find his number.

It would seem grossly unfair that Chris Whitty has been hounded by the public but that Williamson has managed to somehow escape. Of course, not many people would hound Williamson for a photo. It is more believable that Williamson would be so desperate for a photo it would be the member of the public who was trying to escape.

When Williamson was at the Ministry of Defence he was sacked having been accused of leaking documents – something he denies. Perhaps if Williamson does indeed have plans for school bubbles, could somebody please leak them? Either that or please could somebody install some CCTV in his office and then perhaps try and snog him? I'm not recommending it, it’s not a pleasant prospect for anyone involved – but I'm just thinking about the futures of our children. Even without that, I'm sure we can think of a method of getting Williamson away from the Department of Education. Come on – Strong Britain, Great Nation.

Andy Parsons will be touring the UK this autumn and in 2022

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