Should The Schools Go Back on June 1st?

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Is the decision to send some of our children back to school on June 1st the right one? What are the factors that have been considered and how has the decision been made? I”ve been asked these questions a number of times and they bother me at several levels. They bother me as a Dad (and believe me I have an even deeper respect for teachers and the magic they do every day!), as a GP, as a School Governor of a Primary School, as a Trustee of a Multi-Academy Trust, as a Co-Author of a book about Adverse Childhood Experiences and as a local leader in the NHS as Director of Population Health in Morecambe Bay. So, I come to the questions with several different hats on and feeling conflicted in how I think about the issues involved. To be absolutely clear, this blog is written from a personal perspective and I am not writing in any of my official capacities, as with any blog on this site. I was having a conversation the other day with a friend of mine, who spent years working as a solicitor. We were talking about judicial reviews and the probity of any given decision. The vital test is this: has everything been taken into account that should have been; has anything been taken into account that shouldn’t have been? In other words, it’s not about the decision but about HOW the decision is arrived at. If the test is satisfied, it’s a good decision.

 

Firstly, I want to focus on the process of decision making. Over the last few years, working with the Poverty Truth Commission and using the ‘Art of Hosting’ as a framework for how to encourage wider participation, I have been greatly impacted in how I think about this process. In the PTC we follow the basic principle that ‘no decision about me, without me, is for me’. When the government made the decision to open schools more widely on June 1st, did they talk to the unions first? Did they discuss the ideas, concerns and expectations of many teachers prior to their announcement? Was there any discussion with children or young people about what they might feel about returning to school and what their priorities might be? Was there even an announcement to the house of commons so that the idea could be debated and discussed before deciding on the June 1st date? I think the answer to each of those questions is ‘no’. So, in terms of probity, it seems impossible to say this is a good decision without having taken into account such vital opinions and voices. I absolutely recognise that being in government at such a time is no easy task. If the government, here in the UK, continue to act without involving wider participation and conversation, it is less likely, especially at a time of such national anxiety and uncertainty, that they will be able to take the public with them. We need the government to choose to be listening, inclusive and honest about the complexity of the issues involved. If they do this, they will find national collaboration much easier to achieve.

 

Secondly, we keep being told by the government that we are being “guided by the science”. This statement alone poses so many questions! When Sir Jeremy Farrar, (watch from 10:30) CEO of The Wellcome Trust, and member of SAGE was humble enough to admit last week that it was a mistake not to have been far more on the front foot with testing and contact tracing here in the UK, something which has been shown to have an extraordinary benefit in Kerala, South Korea, Taiwan, Iceland and Germany (as just five examples – there are plenty of others from Africa and Oceana also), it felt like there was a collective sigh of relief across the country. Finally, someone actually publicly stated that things have gone wrong. Since that time Prof Tim Spector has warned us that because the UK has been listing only a limited number of possible Covid-19 symptoms, there are probably between 50000 and 70000 people who currently have the disease and are not self-isolating. He, along with Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Jonathan Van Tam have both also insinuated that the ‘tried and tested’ method of physical contact tracing through local public health teams is much more trustworthy than a centralised app-based model. Without this, the ‘R’ number is very limited in it’s ability to predict much at all, as we’re really in the terriotry of good guess work, rather than more real time data which we can interrogate and probe more thoroughly. The danger with this approach therefore is that we are 3-4 weeks behind with the actual numbers and looking at death rates doesn’t necessarily help us much either when considering the rate of spread. To make matters more complex, the (inaccurate) R number has significant regional variation, which again makes the case for more locally led and connected decision making. Furthermore, the UK Pariliament’s Science and Technology Committee, chaired by the Rt Hon Greg Clark MP have detailed ten significant findings and concerns with recommendations attached, whilst recognising the complexities involved. Of particular note, we’ve had 10 weeks in which woefully insufficient testing, contact tracing and isolation has been the reality. Today, the WHO reported the largest number of new cases of Covid-19, worldwide. With our airports still open and an increase in travel emerging, we put ourselves at major risk of an early second wave, especially if we do not have the necessary systems in place to prevent this. Boris Johnson is still adamant that things are steaming ahead nicely but other government ministers say their new track and trace system will not be ready for roll out on June 1st. This is different to having a fully operational system in place. There are questions that still demand answers! Many expert voices are calling for a much more locally driven, joined up approach, led by our brilliant Directors of Public Health, supported by joined up working across the public sector and supported by General Practice. There are plenty of voices asking us to pause and think again.

 

Thirdly, we need to know if it safe for children to go back to school? The government are confident and clear that it is. It is interesting, however, that allegedly every member of the current cabinet sends their children to private schools, none of which will be opening until September. The answer to this question is not straightforward and there are several things to consider and we should be honest about that.  Are children likely to become unwell from Covid-19, if they have no underlying health conditions? No – they are very likely to only suffer very mild symptoms, though there are some concerns regarding some children having rare sudden respiratory symptoms. But what about the impact on those who will need to continue to be isolated at home? Can children have the virus without showing symptoms? Yes. Can they therefore be spreaders of C-19? Yes they can, and because we have not been doing effective testing, contact tracing and isolation, this could be problematic. If the government’s testing and contract tracing system, run by Deloitte’s and supported by the national app is up and running by early June, will this make it safer? Probably, but there is great cynicism in the world of Public Health that this approach is desirable. As stated above, the tried and tested model of this all being run by the Directors of Public Health and their teams in each geography, supported by local GPs is deemed to be much more effective. Local knowledge and guidance would, I believe, give local teachers much more confidence with more readily available advice where needed. Should staff be wearing face masks? There is varying advice on this. Our local authority currently says no, but Prof Trish Greenhalgh from Oxford University advises that they should, on the basis that face masks reduce the spread of C19 and can perhaps offer some protection for the wearer also.

 

What are the risks of not opening the schools? Well, we know that 10% of all children in the UK (and this is not dependent on social class, so kids at private schools are at just as much risk) are likely to be suffering from 4 Adverse Childhood Experiences. The impact of this kind of trauma on them can be absolutely huge in the long term and schools and key relationships with teachers/TAs can be significantly protective factors. Schools also play a very important role in tackling food poverty and ensuring many children get 2 or even 3 good meals. So Steve Chalke is right that not opening schools could appear like a middle-class luxury. But will putting kids who need security and love, into an alien situation with facemarks, social distancing and a very different kind of day to usual, actually compound the sense of trauma? We don’t know yet, but we will need to watch this carefully, if and when the schools do go back. Perhaps headteachers could prioritise those children most at risk, over the 4 and 5 year olds, who it will be very hard to keep socially distanced. What I will say though, is that headteachers are not the ‘bad guys’ here. I don’t know one headteacher who doesn’t want anything except the best for the children in their school and genuinely wants to be able to have them back.

 

Without effective or sufficient testing and contact tracing, we do put ourselves at risk of an early second peak. This is a risk – are we prepared to take it in the face of what we know about the rise in domestic violence, childhood trauma and growing mental health issues? Will 6 weeks back at school before the summer really be worth it? Should we mitigate the risk by not opening and ensure that we are more sure of the necessary processes being in place first? The decision ultimately belongs with each head teacher with support from their governing body, as to whether or not to open on June 1st. It is dependent on what is practicable in their given location and with the staff and facilities they have at their disposal. The government guidance is difficult to implement in many settings. So let us be kind to each other. Let’s be honest about where we are and just how complex this is. For those who want to dip their toe in and give it a go, we must ensure that guidance is followed as closely as possible, especially hand washing, cleaning of surfaces and physical distancing, where practical. For those who decide to wait, fair enough. But whatever happens, let us be determined to build an education system that is fit for the future. Let us rebuild education based on love and kindness and let’s be brave enough to redesign the curriculum around the needs of humanity and the ecology.

 

So, in summary:

 

  • These are my own opinions
  • Is it safe for children and teachers to go back to school? Possibly, but without satisfactory testing, contact tracing and isolation in place and with growing evidence that this will not be adequate by June 1st and with an inaccurate R number due to an incomplete list of symptoms for testing people, there is a risk to the wider public that we could enter an early second peak. It would be prudent for the government to seriously reconsider their centralised approach to this, when empowering local government and public health teams to lead this process will be far more effective. It may be safe for children to begin to return to school (I think), but maybe not for wider society.
  • At what point then, would it be safe for schools to reopen? Perhaps once we are more sure that the protective public health systems we need to be fully operational are in place and running effectively. But we do need to return to school soon, so we need to find a way through – that way is unlikely to come through centralised command and control but will rather require a participatory and inclusive approach. So the answer is maybe but maybe not quite yet – better to get it right than to risk getting it horribly wrong by rushing it.
  • If schools choose to reopen, due to the concerns about issues like trauma, mental health and hunger, what are the issues they need to consider? The current government advice on social distancing is impractical and schools may need to look for community partners, who may be willing to help with other local premises (e.g. churches, mosques and local halls) to enable this to be possible. They will also need to ensure good hand washing, cleaning of surfaces and consider what they want to do about face masks AND we need to re-emphasise this advice to the wider public. Schools will also need to think about how they staff the recommended ‘bubbles’ and whether or not they will need community DBS-checked volunteers to help out. On top of this they will need to consider who they initially prioritise how they support the emotional and mental health of our children, young people and staff in a very different kind of setting. And they will need to remain inclusive of those children and young-people who cannot return to school due to having underlying health conditions themselves or in their households.
  • Whatever happens, let’s ensure a more participatory and inclusive conversation about the path ahead of us. Schools need to be involved in the process.
  • Let us also have a wider conversation about the kind of education system we need for the future. Lots of good thinking on this already across the UK and some podcasts coming soon.

 

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Understanding Brexit (and Trump)

I’ve been doing a bit of thinking about how the Brexit and Trump campaigns were so successful. (I owe most of ths thought process to a very inspiring session about our shadow selves from Paul and Angie Woods, during a weekend focussed on the Enneagram). What was it, apart from the arguments made and the general feeling of discontent that appealed so deeply to the national psyches of the United Kingdom and the United States respectively?

 

I think there is some real wisdom to be gleaned from the Enneagram about the corporate personalities of the UK and USA, which might help us to understand why the majority voted as they did and how we might want to understand and embrace our corporate mind-sets as we look to develop a positive politics of peace for the future.

 

Richard Rohr has done some helpful work, as have others, on the personality types or dominant psyches of various nations. I agree with his perspective that Great Britain has a Type 6 personality and the USA is of Type 3. The root struggle for a type 6 personality is the need to be secure – therefore any campaign based on fear (of not having enough Sovereignty, of not having control of our money, of the “other” people who keep coming here and taking away our sense of national identity) touches on our deepest need and struggle. For a type 3 personality, the root struggle is the need to succeed and so the promise to ‘make America great again’ strikes the chord that tugs on the heart strings.

 

enneagram-3-6-9-healthSo, focusing in on the UK (maybe some thoughts on the lovely USA another time), if we are to shift the political discourse towards something more healthy for the future, we need to learn to listen to the part of us that feels the need to be safe. We need to understand the ‘shadow’ part of our corporate personality that is anxious and fearful, admitting to ourselves what drives our thoughts and actions. When a Type 6 personality is not in a healthy place, they will begin to regress into a Type 3 pattern of thinking. So, the underlying drive to be safe becomes the need to get noticed and be special. So, post-brexit, some of which was about the need to be safe, we find our politicans trying to re-assert our Soverignty and our ‘Greatness’. Only a couple of weeks ago, Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, was declaring on the radio that we don’t realise quite how the rest of the world sees us. Apparently, they admire us and think we need to continue showing great leadership in the world. We continue to believe this about ourselves, that we are very special and have a vital role which the rest of the world needs us to play. I wonder if we actually asked the rest of the world whether or not this is true, they might laugh in our face, pat us on the head and gently remind us that the world has moved on, but maybe we have not.

enneagram-6

 

Great Britain, as a Type 6 corporate personality, has an innate sense of loyalty. After the NHS, our Royal Family reamins the most popular part of our national identity, according to recent surveys. We carry a sense of being ‘loyal subjects’ who ‘do our duty for Queen and Country’. We are reliable, dependable, a safe pair of hands. But when our security is threatened, when we feel we are losing control, when we are told again and again that our borders are not safe, we begin to seek our security externally. We shut others out, we stop trusting others to make rules we don’t feel we have enough control over, build more weapons and ensure our finances work primarily for us. This then leads us towards a tendancy for workoholism, and so then we cut the nation state, drive people back into work, making an argument that it is the ‘lazy poor’ who are in part to blame for some of our mess. We become much more image conscious of our perceived role in the world and go on a charm offensive to remind people just how special we really are. But let me just state this: this is not a very healthy way to behave or live in the world.

 

I know this isn’t going to sound ‘Great’, but it is my perspective that ‘Great Britain’ left the European Union out of a place of fear, which has drawn us to try and re-discover our ‘special’ place in the world. During the referendum, some of our deepest corporate insecurities were touched on, and rather than see them for what they are, speak to them comfortingly and confront them within ourselves, we were enticed into age old patterns of behaviour which acually prevent us becoming the true gift amongst nations that we could be. You see, in my opinion, the invitation to the UK was (and actually continues to be) this: Firstly, let’s admit it – we’re scared. There is too much going on in the world that makes us feel out of control. We need a sense of comfort and security and we’re not sure how to get that anymore, without shutting our borders and taking back control over our ‘own laws and money’. This is exactly why we need the friendship and help of our neighbours! Secondly, we need to hear the call to us that we are loved, actually (!) and we can therefore allow ourselves to be still and know that safety is not truly found in better barriers and bigger weapons but in the risk that is relationship, vulnerability and being known…..that somehow underneath everything are the ‘everlasting arms’. Thirdly, this allows us to find a new place in ‘just being’, knowing we have inherent value, becoming truly loayal friends to the rest of Europe and the World, without the need to re-establish our status as the ‘Great One’.

 

Yes, the media holds an enormous amount of power, but it was the appeal to our deepest needs, a root struggles that enevitably lead to Brexit. Those, who felt the pull to remain, needed to speak to those very same issues, whilst calling us not towards our ‘3’ need to be Great and Successful, but towards our ‘9’. We must awaken the imagination of these amazing isles to a new place in the world, that is not about reassesrting our own name as Great, but finding our place as a nation of peace, building an altogether different kind of future in which our work does not look to protect our own future and rights, but the future hope of everyone everywhere. The UK has some incredible gifts and we can be a gift within and among the nations. We need a world in which each nation knows it’s inherent value and each can take their place amongst the nations to build a future for generations to come, in which we live in peace. We need to reimagine our place in the world. We need to tell a new and more ancient story. In order to do so we MUST face up to our own shadow, otherwise we will continue to act out of it and be the very antithesis of what we would, in our heart of heats, love to become.

 

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The Junior Doctors And Lady Godiva

Tweet A few months ago I wrote a blog suggesting the right approach for the junior doctors was one of subversion and submission. But I think I was wrong. It’s not that I’ve changed my mind on the power of subversion and submission, it’s just that this entire spectacle surrounding the junior doctors, the ‘7 [Continue Reading …]

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