…become disorientating.

by Scottish Secret Teacher

In this series of three articles, a current Scottish school teacher relates their view of the absurdity of the New Normal in the education system.

I work in a Scottish secondary comprehensive school. It may be one that your child or grandchild attends…or not. Distinctions of geography and locality are less important now since uniformity of educational experience is widespread across Scotland. Guidance laid down due to the COVID-19 ‘pandemic’ has ushered in a conformity across all local authorities, instituting a monolithic approach of a specificed ‘best practice’.

If, by that phrase, it is meant religiously following (contentious) government advice, without question or scruple, then now all schools in Scotland adhere to ‘best practice’. However, from my point of view, it is contradictory, uninformed and the beginning of an absolutism which is morally degrading to the individual.

Over the past few months some people who work in schools have worked exhaustively to make them successful learning environments, as far as guidance goes. In some cases, the effort has been Herculean. Still, schools are filled with humans. Without passing lightly over the fact that the majority of teachers are, in normal circumstances, nice people – often hard-working, professional and empathetic – what is now obvious is that this is not enough to be guiding children and teenagers in a time of crisis.

The absence of a curious mind alloyed with other, more robust, values has allowed a general inclination to compliance in educators to transform into people creating an insidious culture, poisoned by fear, and one that requires highly ambiguous actions to be clothed in the most ‘Covid Safe’ acceptable language.

Allow me a few illustrations of this, although the proviso should be made that all those who work in schools have been put in this situation; they would, no doubt, prefer not to be, even if not always for the most admirable of reasons; nor have government or the media helped calm matters with their manipulative data, oftentimes absurd rules and hysterical outpourings.

Heightened through stress, I have watched mature – masked – adults, three of them, surround a child of twelve, their faces reddened and their voices trembling with inchoate rage, and demand she put her mask on. All three stood over the poor Unmasked, and, as her peers passed by, she had to open her bag, search for her face covering, then, nervously with blushing face, put it on under the dutiful glare of adults who genuinely believe this young girl had threatened their life, the lives of those whom they love and, perhaps, the health of the people she loves. A soft word might have done it, previously, but now reactions are intensified beyond considered reason, because everything is perceived by school staff as carrying the incipient cause of catastrophe.

An anxiety infects teaching which is clouding its thought and humanity. I have watched teachers line pupils up outside their classroom, then allowing a single pupil entering at a time – eyed carefully by the mistrustful loco parentis – to ensure that each one sanitises their hands thoroughly as they pass by the hand sanitiser dispenser placed at the wall beside the door; the same routine is repeated on the way out. To my knowledge, no one has questioned whether the exposure of skin to these chemicals twice in an hour, six times a day, five days a week is storing-up any form of long-term damage. There has been no enquiry into the contents of these sanitisers by local authorities; or schools; or unions; nor any public questioning as to whether some components may be in actual fact banned or whether there are unregistered compounds that do serious harm to young bodies. Union representatives, at the very least, should be checking that their members are not open to liability for following guidelines handed down to them.

Understandably, people feel under pressure in this abnormal climate. But this stress is inevitably being displaced onto young people who are equally strained by the same anxieties. A story was related to me of a member of staff, masked, scolding (red with anger) a small group of pupils standing by a printer for the minor infraction of waiting together for their work to be printed out. No doubt the lack of social distancing between the youngsters was an issue, though doubtless her fury sprang from the perceived threat to herself.

The deep consternation and edginess pervading schools is manifesting a defensive and retaliatory egoism assisted by intellectual myopia. (If that member of staff knew that aerosol borne viruses could travel thirty metres and not just two, then they might question why they are in school at all?) The same teacher shares a small office with another person where both work unmasked. There is a lack of clarity about what is to be done or how to do it, and it is engendering unconsidered approaches and breeding pupil resentment. No one wants that.

Schools are being forced into half-measures when it comes to Duty of Care and a disparate message from top to bottom is not helping by throwing-up unsettling individual peculiarities. There are examples of adult behaviour that raise more fears in pupil minds than provide reassurance. One teacher wanders the corridors like a radioactive waste handler leftover from the Chernobyl disaster. He wears a mask, a protective visor and seems to have managed to insert some sort of material between his face-covering and mouth, presumably to filter microscopic virus particles: it makes his communication an indistinct mumble. The effect on student behaviour? Five pupils had to be removed from a single lesson; they can hardly hear him, and either disconcerted or taking advantage, they misbehave. Another staff member, bedecked in mask, visor and plastic apron randomly appears in classroom doorways asking for pupils to come downstairs. You don’t know if he’s here to collect a pupil, or butcher them. Although, open to humorous interpretation, the message being conveyed is one of insecurity about the safety of schools.

One of the teachers has a plastic mask like those used when applying oxygen; it is probably more effective (?) than wearing solely cloth face-coverings. However, the practicalities of school-life renders it useless. He removes it to speak to you; puts it back on when you speak; removes it to speak to you; puts it back on when you speak. (All conversation had in a closed space.) And the mask has a vent continually open so he can breathe. And this is a science teacher! Where’s the reason? The evaluation of evidence? The logical conclusions?

Even ignoring such huge objections, Consistency herself would demand the use of goggles (plastic overalls and a separate air supply), yet that is an impossibility.

Putting individual approaches to self-protection aside, the basics of schooling are threatening to collapse into farce. The experience of face-coverings in classrooms is not satisafactory: ask a mask wearing pupil a question, you get a muffled, inaudible reply. Ask again. The same. Ask again. Nothing is any clearer so you may pretend they gave the right answer and move on. It’s the same everytime. Occassionally, a pupil will remove the mask and, briefly, it feels like a functioning classroom again. This is the rare exception. The rules enforce an irrational and bizarre pedagogy. Fear invigilates everywhere. What a strange, dystopian sight most classrooms make! Masked teachers, with good intentions, often enunciating inaudible statements to pupils who reflect back the same blunted articulation, like a noise echoing dully from rock to rock.

Younger pupils, either knowing the little threat they face from a coronavirus that is no more severe than a flu, possibly sceptical about PCR tests or subconsciously amused at the whole situation, play with their masks regularly: masks are on heads, wrapped over eyes, worn as beards, thrown at each other and left on classroom floors. Few adults, if any, call infection control, or even the janitor, when this ‘deadly’ bio-hazard presents itself, instead, nearly all just pick the mask up and put it in the bin. The attempts at virus mitigation are dismantled by the requirements of daily living.

The people behind these either have not thought things through or care little about state schooling or know this is not the serious disease we’ve been led to believe. The intense urgency mandated which forces people to focus on and speak about mainly ineffective and self-contradictory measures is difficult to convey: how the headteacher has to instruct infection control by handwashing – of an aerosol borne virus; how assiduously management have to trace who sat beside a COVID positive case meaning that another five or six people have to absent themselves for two weeks – of course, this virus would infect only the person beside you; following the guidance, how diligently each hour ungloved teachers spray down desks with dubious solutions which leave a chemical, toxic taste to the air and that display large unmissable warnings about harmfulness when touched or inhaled! Should not there be more concern about virus counter-measures than the virus? It is worth considering.

The sacrifices made for a ‘Covid Secure’ school continue the paradox: teachers dutifully teach in cold classrooms with coats on, the windows open to provide ventilation, then return to staff bases with the windows shut – because it is cold – their masks removed and social distancing a virtual impossibility. Many staff have marked off boundaries on classroom carpets to ensure they and pupils are always two metres apart during lessons, yet must stand at doors or in corridors to maintain orderly conduct. No teacher can escape the need to thread themselves through busy, enclosed corridors in order to get something or go somewhere. Regardless of any other conduct, ultimately, they must quixotically sit in an indoor environment for six hours a day alongside people, whose previous contacts it is impossible to know, even though there is highly contagious virus tearing through society.

Even the most conflicting rules are there to be followed. Before and after lending, library books are quarantined for three days to restrict infection, yet workbooks, jotters and pencils are handed out every lesson! Someone is writing this guidance whilst omitting it on other ‘crucial’ facets; are they serious?

This must be the most spectactular and egregious display of abandoning reason that Scottish education, or even history, has ever witnessed (and there’s some competition)! Can’t educators see it? You never want to acknowledge the fact that those you trust and follow are not acting on your behalf. (It means unpleasant confrontation and unwanted additional pressure for all parties.) Which begs the question, are our best interests at the heart of all this? Never have the medical-politco-industrial complex been so suspect in regard to their intentions.

The average age of someone dying of COVID-19 is 82 years old. The most cases in a school that I have heard of is four (since August). There is an almost infinitesimal threat to the health of young people, or even teachers. In light of this, and to avoid such dangers as an imploding economy alongside a mental health crisis, schools should and must remain open with all COVID measures abolished! What schools should not do is play along with this self-defeating theatre of impotent limitation of a virus that 99.85% of those infected (about 2% of the population) will not be harmed by. It is slowly undermining the entirety of Scottish education, not least its health and credibility.

End this lunacy. Let us learn something about viruses and the immune system! Let’s treat more sceptically those we look to lead. But more than that, let us learn about ourselves – that our problems go far, far deeper than we imagined, painful though that is to admit. That issues concerning resilient values, fear and reasoning are plainly endemic in our system. Let’s start the process of re-assessing how this happened with the aim of ensuring that it can never happen again.