Looking around the children’s hospital ward the young nurse waited until the whining hum of the doodle bug stopped, quickly she lay herself over the child who had the greatest chance of life when it inevitably exploded close by a few seconds later.
As I viewed the shocking scenes from Brescia in Northern Italy on the BBC last night I recalled this little vignette which my mother shared with me of her time at Great Ormond Street hospital during World War 2. Very soon, if not already here in London, our hospital staff will face the greatest challenge for our country since that period in our history. Many of us, who had parents who lived through the war are looking back to those times and marvelling at how they or indeed our grandparents coped.
This hidden deadly virus has swiftly taken over the normal bustling life to be found here in the heart of London’s Docklands. Canary Wharf College is a small Multi-academy trust - a group of schools working in collabor... consisting of two primary schools and a growing secondary school. Each day this week more and more children and young people have not attended school; yesterday our pupil absence across the trust lay at 51%. With a quarter of our staff self-isolating or sick, the school timetable has been altered daily as staff have valiantly delivered high quality lessons whilst uploading numerous learning opportunities prepared over the last few weeks on our hastily constructed Virtual Learning Platform.
Communication, communication, communication has been the key word as fear and bewilderment has gripped our parent body. With over half of our parents speaking one of the twenty-six different languages spoken by our pupils they have struggled to come to terms with what the Covid -19 virus means for them.
Our three free schools are placed equidistant down the centre of the Isle of Dogs, many days it would not appear out of place to the British public if the BBC swapped their regular Eastender broadcast for a live feed from our schools. The life our school community leads is rich, flamboyant and near the edge. However suddenly our parent body has been frozen with fear, heightened by worried calls from their families back in their homeland and I have realized in the absence of their extended families how isolated and alone so many of our society has become in London. Our valiant team of receptionists have been fielding calls for most of each day from concerned and understandably bemused parents who need advice and comfort.
As conversations rife with conspiracy theories are being had on social media around the globe, we cannot but reflect on how we have allowed our lifestyle to get into this state. As I write, I look out onto the great winding river Thames and see the vast waterway almost empty of vessels and yet even with the town on the edge of lockdown, the DLR trundles along every four minutes and at only six o’clock in the morning the roads have a constant bus of delivery lorries and cars trundling across the bridge over the docks. Surely this this desperate state of affairs will shock us into a new way of living; a slower, greener, and more evenly paced life.
I write this on a poignant and historic day, 20th March 2020 when we close all schools across the country. Our children appear to be less affected by the virus, but they are traumatised by the fear that has gripped their parents and which is pouring out of the media. Even the brazen and carefree teenagers are in shock at the prospect of no exams in two months as everyone comes to terms with the dawning realisation that schools will remain closed for the foreseeable future.
Yet what an opportunity has been handed to us. We as educators get to keep the children who who need extra time, extra love, extra attention and those children of parents on the front line who are also worried and anxious. We have been charged by our government to set up ‘child care’, yet isn’t that what we provide alongside learning opportunities every day in our schools? Perhaps now our society will become aware of the level of need we have day in day out in our mainstream schools. Now at last we have the opportunity to focus on the ten percent of children with educational healthcare plans and those with specific vulnerabilities who need that extra time and attention. When one of our Principals asked last night for volunteers to come in on Monday, when our teaching staff could have stayed at home snuggled under the duvet on full pay, in the secret ballot ninety percent said they would be happy to do so.
I hope at the end of all this our society and more importantly our politicians will financially recognise the incredible role our educators, healthcare providers, social workers and wider services in our society give to so selflessly to make our community a better place. Is it not high time that there is a reversal in our tax and salary system? Surely a system that gives nursery workers who deal day in a day out with our greatest treasures and most precious members of our society, the least pay with many of them living near, if not on the poverty line MUST change.
Our country will get through this viral challenge but we cannot allow our elected politicians to return to our old ways. We have to begin to think differently, be less selfish and give more generously to those who give the most in our society.