A look at schools and vaccines.
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Dear lovely reader,

It's been a few weeks. I'm never sure if I should apologise for the gap or for coming back at all. Whichever way, apologies.  These emails will continue to be sporadic until there is more of a solid House of Commons or whatever else to preview.   It seems a long, long times ago that these were regular Friday emails about what was about to happen in Parliament.

Anyway. I hope you enjoy this and I'll be back in your inbox at some point.

Peace and love,


Learning lessons

We like schools. We drop our children off in the morning, they come back to us in the afternoon knowing more stuff than they did before.  They get exercise. They learn social skills and the manners they need to navigate them well.  They learn conflict resolution. 

They make friends, some of whom they might keep with them and treasure for the rest of their lives. They do essays and colouring in. They make posters and solve equations. They progress from learning to read to evaluating and analysing clever A level stuff.

While they're at school, their adults can work, or work out.  Work through issues. Have a moment to sit down and have a cup of tea. They can do adult stuff.

(I'm aware that there are lots of people who don't like schools, some of whom choose to home school their children. That's clearly a valid and courageous decision to make, but please forgive me for parking it to one side for this email.)

Schools, though, have been closed. A few children of key workers have been going in, and even fewer vulnerable children. Teachers have been going in to work with that cohort. In general, though, schools have been closed.

Many have been home schooled with passion and flair and dedication. I know parents who have stuck to the timetable rigidly, taking turns (as their knowledge and experience fits) to deliver everything from English and Maths to French and PSHE. Others have loosely completed tasks set by school.  Others have done little to no school work.  

In short: parents are exhausted, (most/many) children haven't learnt as much and plenty of adults can't get back to work. 

The reason behind this, though? Obvs it's the virus. Schools have been closed to protect children, teachers, staff, parents and the wider community.

The government thinking is this:

If we're going to have a crack at getting the country back to any kind of vague 'new normal', we need to get schools open. As soon as possible.

They say that the vulnerable are the ones that need it most and are the ones who face getting left behind the furthest.  

Schools should open, they say, for just Reception, Year One, Year Six, Year 10 and Year 12. These are, apparently, the year groups who will benefit most from the lesson time. Probably from 1st June. That's two weeks today, calendar fans.

There is some talk about all Primary students having a month or so with their teachers before the summer holidays.  There are fewer specifics available on this, though, right now.

There will be not as many children per classroom (12ish?), each class will be in a bubble and will have separate playtime.  There will be no crossover between children (or staff) in those bubbles. All will have a packed lunch so there will be no sharing of dinner space. 

They'll be learning in a separate environment, freeing up their adults to work/visit garden centres, giving the most vulnerable children the support they need.  On this last point, they go further.  They suggest that parents whose children receive huge amounts of homeschooling and fight the re-opening are denying the vulnerable children the support and education they need.

There is some evidence that children don't suffer from the disease in the same way and only very rarely pass it on to adults.

Meanwhile, other groups, including the biggest teaching unions, have a different idea. 

They think that if the whole virus thing is out there, then it's not safe to get schools together. 

The government advice is that children can't see their grandparents. They can't see their friends in the park.  They can't even have a teacher pop into their garden to go through some of the more challenging sums.

So... how on earth can it be right to tell them they *should* now be congregating in groups of more than ten? Not just with other children, either. Teachers, support staff, caretakers, senior management...  There have to be plenty of adults around for a school to open.

Will these adults be supplied with full PPE, they ask. If not, what protection is there for them and their families? How can the government keep children and adults safe, while encouraging them to congregate inside buildings? 

Schools have been shut until this point because it is not safe. The idea that, with the virus still spreading (albeit at a slower rate) and killing hundreds every day, it is somehow safe now is not one that the unions buy into.

Many parents have taken to social media to say they wouldn't send their children back even if schools re-opened. 

So, what now?

We're in a bit of a pickle here. The government are very clear we should open these schools. The teaching unions (and the doctors' union the BMA) call it reckless and dangerous.

Schools are due to reopen in 14 days.  Head teachers need to sort out how things are going to work.

Honestly, lovely reader, I've no idea where this is going. This is one of those issues that's hugely emotive. There is no correct answer. There are benefits and costs to both sides. 

What's really different here to the kinds of issues I normally write about in this email is the timeframe. The clock is really ticking. Loudly. And the positions are hugely entrenched.

Are either the government or the unions going to turn around this week and say 'well, we've been looking at it and I think we were entirely wrong'? Nope.  The time for that was last week when government science types SAGE met with them. I must admit I had just assumed that during that meeting some kind of deal would be done. It really wasn't. The unions came out harder.

With nobody backing down, solutions are hard on the ground.  Can schools open if the unions tell their teachers not to go in? Will teachers' desire to teach and nurture their charges outway that union advice?  How strong are unions in 2020? Come to that, how strong is the government in 2020?

Can Gavin Williamson (the Education Secretary) corral all the unwilling and concerned relevant adults, children and parents up to the school gates?  It's going to be a very, very tough job.

Waxing on vaccine

(No that doesn't quite rhyme, or work as a subheading in any way. Apologies.) 

Big chat today is about vaccines. I'm not a scientist. I'm in no way qualified to write on the subject. But here goes anyway (briefly).

The headline has been that by 17th September, we may have 30m vaccines available.

That would be blooming ace. A vaccine is pretty much the only way we can get back to shaking hands, smooching strangers and heading into a crowded bar. If those aren't your three favourite things by now, you've been doing lockdown wrong.

There is no return to 'regular' life until we have this thing in our lives. It's the thing that we want. As soon as possible.

Aren't we lucky then, that one is coming in just a few months time? Let's all re-book that flight to Gan Canaria for, say, 18th September. 

Erm... yes. Up to a point. Maybe come off that Jet2 website for a moment. 

If you look at this really closely, there is a tiny little problem. There is no vaccine. In the world. It doesn't exist. 

The idea is that we might have one soon, and then we'll quickly make 30m of them. What's really been announced is a partnership with a company to put them together. They're called AstraZeneca.  You may have heard of them off of Seroquel, Crestor and Symbicort.  Or maybe just because they are a massive, massive drug firm.

Now, we think we might be close to having a vaccine. (DISCLAIMER - this is where I show I'm well out of my depth) The normal process of making a vaccine takes loads of years.  This team in Oxford have shrunk that to a few months. Presumably with their science brains. Now they are testing on humans, which I don't think can be shrunk quite so much. There are high hopes for this trial and the government gave another £82m to this and a project based at Imperial College in London. We've got amazing science people here in the UK. We're very much hoping this comes good.

Best case scenario: what we've got cooking is the real deal. We get 30m by mid September. You go wine tasting in Sardinia. We sell the vaccine around the world and make loads of money.  Everyone is happy.

Worst case scenario: This vaccine isn't it. We can't make it work. We keep looking. September comes and goes. We spend Christmas 2 meters apart from family. Another attempt can't quite get there. In March, a year on, a small company in Iceland cracks it. We buy in loads and loads. We're all out on the streets in time for the 2021 cricket season. Every cloud, eh?

And finally...

These are hard times. We don't know what's coming, we don't know where we're going. It's no different for life at SP. Over the past few weeks, some people have been very generous with their support. We're not too far off a place where our future is looking more certain.  If you can support us with a few quid a month, it would really mean the world. Thank you.
I'll chip in.
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