School and COVID — A Match Made in Hell?

A common sight in education.

I’ve been waking up at around 9–10am every single day for the last two months, getting plenty of sleep and being able to relax a little bit more for that short while. Then home-schooling comes along and the days gets a whole lot more stressful. And then the First Minister makes the announcement that school in Scotland will return on the 22nd of February to allow for senior students to complete SQA coursework in schools.

However, many of us will be wondering what school looks like during lockdown 3. Previous restrictions didn’t really apply in school, with no social distancing and face coverings only becoming mandatory in class during the winter of 2020. And while we have wipes and sprays for chairs and tables, the restrictions weren’t very stringent. And it showed.

Schools were blamed for the sharp rise in COVID cases in Scotland, with students getting the virus and being asymptomatic. They may then visit their elderly grandparent, giving them the virus. As we know, elderly people are the most vulnerable to the virus. This is one of the key reasons behind the second peak in the virus. This time, school is partially taking place during our second lockdown caused by that second peak. And with most of Scotland’s school pupils staying at home, you might be wondering what it’s like.

I’m attending school three days a week, so I might as well let you know on my socially distant, sterile school day.

6:50am — I wake up early, my brain isn’t quite working. I’m in a bit of a haze as I open my blinds and make my way downstairs. My mum says: “you look scary” after I wake up. Usually, I am feeling awake and bright after waking up, but I’m really not. I slowly make my way to the bathroom to wash up.

6:53am — A brush of the teeth and a shave of the face later, I’m somewhat ready for the first major difference to my morning routine. A COVID test! NHS Test and Trace, alongside the Scottish Government, have offered every student in Scotland a COVID-19 self test kit, which gives results in 30 minutes. Having had my first COVID test back in September, I know full well how horrific this experience is. It’s quite literally tear inducing.

I begin to set up my mini science experiment entitled “Does Lewie have COVID?” And the two potential outcomes are:

a) I have no COVID and therefore, I am not infectious, and I can attend school safely.

b) I have COVID and I must endure 10 days in hiding, in my bedroom.

7:15am — Some confusion, a cotton-swab, and some gagging later, I now need to wait 30 minutes before I receive my result. In the meantime, I get ready and prepared for the day ahead, assuming I am going to test negative for the virus. After all, I’ve barely seen anyone in two months. I go about making my breakfast (toast and jam — simple) and getting ready for school, no uniform required.

7:45am — I’m stressing now. I must register my negative result online, pack my bag, do my hair, find my glasses, find my headphones, double-check my bag, find my face covering and hand sanitiser and the bus comes in 15 minutes. Time to step on it. Me, not the bus. Bus needs to slow down so I’m not late.

8:03am — I leave the house and begin making my way to the bus stop, it’s turning into Spring, so the weather is milder than the last time I did this in December, when it was bitterly cold and icy. The sun is creeping up over the trees, creating an Insta-worthy sunrise. And turns out my panicked preparations were all for nothing, for the bus is late. What a surprise. Me and the six other passengers (compared to over sixty this time last year) all wait, socially distanced, at the bus stop.

8:21am — Okay, my stress REALLY wasn’t worth it. I know it’s mild but I’m cold now, it is only eight in the morning. The bus finally pulls into the bus stand and we all get on one at a time, conscious of the distance we need to keep. And yet, some people don’t feel the need to socially distance. Like come on, you’re on a bus with 70+ seats both upstairs and downstairs. Why not have some consideration for once in your life and sit a row or two away from your friend? Neither of you are deaf, so just keep your distance and keep everyone safe. They’re masked up, which is better than some of the people I’ve previously encountered on here.

It’s a different driver from last year, and he doesn’t feel the need to play the radio. Instead, we’re serenaded with the sound of a whiney bus engine and gearbox, which sounds like it’s way past it’s prime.

8:37am — We arrive at school, not much to say about this other than I must stand outside in the cold due to restrictions meaning we can’t just hang out inside, because COVID spreads easier inside.

8:50am — But I’m able to survive around 13 minutes before heading up to my class for the day, Computing. I’d generally have around 5 other classes today, but we’re sat in the same room all day for the next several hours. The main difference is that most of the computers are now adorned with plastic bin bags acting as some sort of deterrent for people potentially wanting to use them. All but 7 are covered in these bags.

9:20am — Most of the class come in slowly, particularly those in the year below, as we share this class with students in the year below studying for the same qualification. Perhaps if it wasn’t for years of budget cuts and better treatment of teaching as a profession, we’d have the honour of small class sizes. But nope, now we’re all struggling to be socially distanced until we’re split up among 3 classes. After splitting every up, all three rooms are at their new safe capacities.

The issue with splitting the classroom up is that the teacher must run between all three of these rooms, making it difficult for him to provide help with the first coursework task of the day, databases. I could bore you with the details, but just know I spent most of the morning scratching my head and talking about general randomness with my friend, from a safe distance of course. (That reminds me, I ought to ask them if they want to play Stardew at some point, not tonight though — too sleepy).

11:21am — The first part of the day is finished, and we’re now able to take a little break. Although all that social distancing we had in place in the morning has now gone out the window now that we’re outside. Again, secondary schools and COVID are a nightmare to manage due to the tactile nature of young people. That tactile behaviour can range from hugs and high-fives, to just messing around and pushing each other into the bike shelter to huddle around for a joint. This isn’t no posh private school, just your bog-standard comprehensive.

11:36am — We do a room swap, so this time I thought we’d be getting much more of the teacher’s undivided attention. The problem is, he is spending so much longer with the other group of socially distanced students, trying to get one pupil to stay 2 metres apart. One pupil. And as a result, the rest of us need to wait 20 minutes for help with a simple question.

I could quite easily continue, but this was the theme for the rest of the day until 3:40pm. Let’s sum up how school and COVID, worked first of all:

The Scottish Government’s pupil and teacher testing scheme is now underway and is manageable thanks to the small cohort of senior school students. This helps to drive down the risk of in-school transmission.

Our school’s hygiene and safety protocols were stringent and explicit in the importance of always maintaining a two-metre distance. Face coverings worn unless you have a medical exemption, and we’re kept in our year group bubbles as much as possible.

The problem comes with how pathetically underfunded and understaffed schools are. Perhaps if the Conservative party tried to conserve teacher’s jobs rather than continually drive them out, we would be able to have enough teachers to fill our extra classrooms. Perhaps schools would have the money to pay for extra space in buildings and such, which would help to mitigate that second peak we recently had.

So socially distanced school isn’t failing because of teachers or pupils, the onus lies on Boris Johnson and Gavin Williamson to care about education in the same way they do. If they spent as much time defending bullies such as Priti Patel and giving their cronies multi-million-pound contracts, our schools would be in a much safer position.

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Hey! I’m a 17 year old Scottish blogger, check out my blogs on gender politics, actual politics, and the world around us, plus some fun stuff! Any/pronouns.

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Lewie Writes

Lewie Writes

Hey! I’m a 17 year old Scottish blogger, check out my blogs on gender politics, actual politics, and the world around us, plus some fun stuff! Any/pronouns.

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