Dear Gavin Williamson, now we know what your plans are for Covid-safe classrooms … uh, uh | Michael rosen


I I wonder if you watched your BBC Breakfast car crash interview with Charlie Stayt this week? He set before you a scenario that teachers entering the new term may well face during the pandemic: a room in a school, without a window. In this room, as Stayt reminded you, is a teacher and students. You did not suggest that this situation would not take place. I know why: Over the years, schools have had to improvise for space with all kinds of alcoves, partitions and nooks, dividing the rooms so that small group teaching can take place. Sometimes these teaching spaces do not have windows. There were times when I did writing workshops in such places. I know they exist. I think you also.

Once Stayt put this picture in front of you – a room with no windows, no ventilation, as he put it – he asked: what should this professor do?

Here’s what you said: “Well, uh, as you well know, uh, we’re taking a whole bunch of things and of course that’s why the immunization program is a key reason -“

Charlie asked his question again, and you continued without a problem, “As you will understand, you know, uh, you know, we’re always looking to improve the type of security; the kind of, uh, that reasonable balance of getting kids back to school and also dealing with uh, uh, all sort of, uh, global pandemic. “

Gavin Williamson took the tongue out in BBC Covid and Schools interview - video
Gavin Williamson took the tongue out in BBC Covid and Schools interview – video

Like thousands of others, I have a child who is going back to school. As I read this, I wonder if Mr. Williamson answered Charlie Stayt’s question? Did he reassure me that when my child goes to school, the Secretary of State for Education in England has issued guidelines for staff and students on what to do to stay safe, in that windowless, ventilated room? As I was transcribing what you were saying, I was concentrating very intensely on your exact sentences to see if I could find any reason to be confident in your plans. I’m going to lead them by you: “whole set of measures”, “the kind of security”, “the reasonable balance”, “all sort of, uh, global pandemic”.

I know that you and your colleague Nick Gibb, the Minister for Educational Standards, attach great importance to the correct and precise use of the language. In fact, you have set up tests to measure how correct and accurate children’s language use is. Teachers are also assessed on how well they can teach this. I guess you and Gibb would like to give teachers and students some good examples of how to produce that kind of language as well. In its own way, those words, “all sort of, uh, global pandemic” make up a “broad noun phrase,” which your program considers a hallmark of good writing. However, while this is one of those much-loved constructs, in your response to Stayt on ventilation in classrooms in England, that broad noun phrase doesn’t help me at all. It gave me no reason why I or my child should be confident that they won’t be exposed to virus-spreading situations at school.

Airborne viruses do not discriminate on the basis of age, sex, gender or any other category. We breathe them out, we breathe them in. A person infected with the virus, who may or may not feel sick, can send the virus into the air. Someone who does not have the virus can breathe this air. I can be just as worried that my own child is in ‘this room’, as I can be worried about whether they might breathe out the virus on someone who might get seriously ill, become long Covid, or die.

Back to Stayt’s question. Instead of struggling with political gibberish, how would you have responded otherwise? The Covid is no longer a surprise. There could have been – and still could be – an emergency program for schools to improve ventilation. You could produce a set of clear guidelines on what types of spaces should not be used by more than one person at one time. And you could produce a clear set of mask guidelines. Students are told to wear masks on buses on their way to their school, where they then sit in bus-like classrooms and remove their masks. What is the policy?

So Stayt asked you: if there is no ventilation in “this room”, would there be a CO2 to watch? And you have embarked on another painful ramble on “deployment”. It is the deployment that did not take place.

It’s not okay, Mr. Williamson. It’s chaotic and dangerous. Your elusive answers reveal that you and this government don’t know what to do, or that you don’t want to do what needs to be done. To me, it sounds to me like you think you can get away with the lethal ‘herd immunity’ strategy again, hoping the vaccination will help you avoid the monster death toll we had in 2020. This times, it’s our kids and their teachers that you’re experimenting with, facing the uh, uh, all sort of, uh, global pandemic.

Yours, Michael Rosen

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