From Steph in London: A World Beating system … and absolute incompetence

June 19

Hurrah, with a world beating system the NHS and the country will be saved…

The new track and trace scheme is now up and running.  The management of it has bypassed local public health teams and it’s controlled centrally. So- from a very reliable source …. somebody gives information after testing  positive for Covid on May 31.  The team starts phoning round but can’t get any  joy so on June 10 contacts the local PHE team to take over the contact tracing ….only 10 days wasted and heaven knows how any more infections..

Fortunately, we are on top of the track and trace(!)  and are going to give Google/ Apple a try at the phone app-creating world beating systems temporarily shelved! We’ve only wasted about 3 months and millions but the boys have all the answers.

And now we move to education, where the leadership has been spectacular. Thank goodness we have Heads and staff working their socks off trying to work out how to get children back into schools realistically..

My daughter in law is a data manager for a 1600 plus secondary school. Normally at this time of year she will have done the timetable for September and head of departments will have ironed out any issues (like double A level Physics on a Friday afternoon!)

This year she has created 2 timetables – a normal two week timetable with all subjects getting their allocated time in the right rooms with the right staff and a shadow timetable that can be slotted in for all pupils…..for simplicity and to ensure all pupils get time in school, they have decided to offer Maths, English and science only on a part time basis if necessary …..It’s the Options that create problems for bubbles and social distancing.

Given the school leaving age is now 18 it may be time for the curriculum police to think about a broader offering for all students for longer.  No Options or GCSE exams at 16, (which no longer makes sense as everyone stays in education beyond that.. the end of year 11 is not a definitive time anymore) Perhaps International Baccalaureate type education?

from Steph in London: transport or teleporting?

June 15. So, the shops can open tomorrow – it will be interesting to see how successful it will be and who will venture forth.

It made me think how we will get into London when it’s time to go – public transport being off limits for the foreseeable future. We made a conscious decision to run a small car several years ago. It is great for city living, can be parked in the smallest spaces and suits us…. Or it did suit us. Faced with no trains, UK holidays and car travel to Holland to see the children do we need to think about a different option – slightly larger, more powerful and more comfortable for long journeys? It goes against our environmental philosophy to think about it but we are all being pushed onto the road again. I’m not sure how that will play out.

We moved a huge pot containing a Cornus Kousa (dogwood) up to the top of the garden today to finish off the design in that area. Having time to get the whole garden replanted and organised has been a joy and for the first time since we moved in, we feel as if the garden is now ours. All we have to do now is keep everything alive.

Relationships with lockdown and Covid appears to have changed considerably. Is it fatigue or a lack of confidence in the government’s ability to get us out of this mess? They certainly have lost the confidence of many- to the point that we no longer believe almost anything we are told. How could it have been handled better and why on earth wasn’t it?

 Answers on a postcard …

from Steph in London: If you’re not bothered about uplift …

June 4. Shiny graphs galore and an inbuilt belief that, if they look good, they will be telling the truth and, even more importantly, will be proving we are not the worst country in Europe and nearly the worst country in the world for the virus … David Blunkett when Minister of Education once said, “Learn to measure what you value not value what you measure”. It might help!

Shutting the borders so that those countries with a worse record than ours don’t send people over to contaminate us … I am sure that the fact that we are (almost) the worst country in the world will mean that anybody with any sense will keep a wide berth of the UK for ages.

In the meantime we wait and watch to see what happens with the freedom that has been given to us … there are definitely more cars around. Five of the grandchildren are back in school 3 days a week, one is having a full day of lessons on line much to her horror and the others are getting very much  better at table tennis and baking cakes. The six-year olds spend the day in ‘bubbles’ of 15 with 2 teachers. They do everything together and are separated from everybody else at break and lunch time. Then when they are dismissed at 3-ish they all pile into the playground, throw themselves at their friends from other bubbles then go home.

 My eldest son is planning to be working at home until December with the younger members of the team going into the office on a fortnightly rota. The logic of that is that the “youngsters” may not have the space at home to work there long term and the oldies (those over 35!) who can work in a separate room will do so, and just visit the office once a week for the odd meeting.

Life has become strangely more agitated for us all. Do we go out? With gloves, a mask, nothing? We’ve bought disposable cups for friends so we can serve coffee (in gloves) and safely. Are we being totally neurotic and is the R number in London only .4? It was strangely calmer when the world had stopped … but it is the summer and if it had gone on into the winter there would have been many (more) stir crazy households.

So, the conversation about uplift was a joy – two very jolly over 80s discussing comfortable underwear.

The rest is censored …

from Steph in London: turning point week

May 31. Capacity over strategy, instinct over compliance, self righteousness and the divine right of kings over competence … all in all a turning point week. Tempers are strained and it’s not the lockdown that is causing the frustration. It’s as if dear Boris and his henchmen are bored now- we are distinguished in having almost the worst figures in the world, nothing is working smoothly, the R number remains steady at too high and now a few more deaths won’t really matter … 10 weeks of grasping at straws, over promising and under delivering tests even the most loyal in society.

Essentially nothing has changed but we are being released albeit slowly (but are the over 70s?)

So now we have to think about meeting the world again – well, up to 6 of them at least. From being a extrovert who loves being with people I feel anxious about being with anybody other than my nearest and dearest, even in the garden. So, Book Club could meet in a garden, as could our Ladies who Lunch group – do I want to? No thank you, not yet.

Happy birthday to my middle son, who turns 45 today. He lives in the Netherlands and heaven knows when I can next give him and the grandchildren a hug – and a present!

from Steph in London: education …

When I agreed to write a blog, I swore I wouldn’t make any political comments … after over two months of lockdown I am about to fall off the wagon … why does education have to be politically governed? Or rather why does it have to be politically governed by people whose only interaction with schools was decades ago when they went. If we were an authoritarian state into indoctrination, perhaps interference is needed but I have yet to see a politician whose raison d’etre was actually the good of the young instead of their own career.

Why have we not got a decent education minister? In fact, the last decent one was in the 90’s. She actually understood education – such a novelty.

So, our esteemed MOE wants children taught in a bubble up to 15 pupils all day … I wonder how any schools have classrooms big enough for social distancing. A local school with 1,400 pupils only has classrooms large enough for 8 socially distanced. The mathematicians amongst you can work out how many rooms and how many teachers will be needed.

Then compute the options for the older pupils – 240 pupils per year. Pupils choose up to 12 subjects, practical subjects including the sciences needing more space and staff … bubbles might work for the core subjects but all the other subjects would place pupils and teachers in so many different groupings.

Rotas seem a good idea – different year groups in at different times … but no! He doesn’t want schools to run rotas as happens in Holland and other European countries.

The Heads I know are really trying to work something out- not least a timetable for the next academic year.

Rant over- back to the garden …

from Steph in London: the new rhythm …

The new rhythm of Face Time, Zoom and HouseParty for social contact has yielded surprising results. Friends who we normally see every few months or longer are now weekly or fortnightly buddies. We enjoy conversations that are not full of a report on recent activities in the City or wherever, but are more chats around the here and now.

‘News’ takes second place and we get to know people on a much more intimate level as we chat on. I suppose it could be construed as a Covid dating app.

We have time to find out more about each other that we may not have known and the things that attracted us originally are reawaken into a greater understanding and affection….

People I’ve known for 40 years, when conversation has been revolved around the children or work are now sitting chatting about other things. Not necessarily always deep and meaningful but easy, comfortable and strangely supportive. Online! I never thought I’d admit that!

My relationship with the virtual world is contrary. In January I would never Face Time anyone without a previous conversation and appointment. It seemed an intrusion into people’s private lives. It’s now May, and actually I now use social media with gay abandon. I even showed a pal round the new house without making the bed first..

Hey ho- my mother would have been totally distraught and would know I was definitely going to the dogs….

from Steph in London,UK: homelessness …

May 8. The government (this or the last one) had started to look at homelessness and said it would take till 2025 to get people off the streets. Post or mid-Covid19 there is a consensus that most if not all homeless people have somewhere to sleep every night … I wonder if it’s true and if it is how can we transfer this practice to being a normal state of affairs post post Covid? Hopefully the mindset has changed and the powers that be will be able to see their way to look positively at solutions instead of presenting the usual ‘Yes but” scenarios.

We’ve really opened the box on deprivation. Good schools  know their cohort of pupils and they work to raise their attainment – extra support, mentoring,  the best teachers encouraging and working with parents to try to  ‘level’ the playing field. Today those same schools are delivering free school meals to their vulnerable pupils and checking weekly on the pupils and their work personally. This, of course is easier in areas where schools catchment areas are small. I wonder how rural schools with much wider catchment areas are organising this vital service to the pupils.

The lack of computers  and tablets in homes automatically puts students at a huge disadvantage. If there is a computer, several children and parents may well be trying to work on the same machine in the same room at the same time.

I hear that some schools are doing class time together via one of the platforms – in order to make sure that safeguarding guidelines are followed some are only audio. Staff are contacting their pupils via email and that contact is vital if the lock down continues. It’s vital that somehow those pupils without access to these interactions should be part of the new normal schooling. Suddenly pupil poverty, which is largely hidden in schools,  has come to the fore and supplying the technology should be as important today as text books were to us.

So the weather is to take a turn for the worse this week. Perhaps I’ll get round to sorting out my paperwork – or creatively think of loads of distraction activities to avoid it. In the meantime the garden beckons.

from Steph in London: grandchildren adapting …

 April 30. “Watching” the grandchildren adapt to being at home has been interesting. They seem to be happy to work at home and are enjoying not getting into school uniform every morning although they do have a routine. Joe Wicks is the start of the day, followed by school work until lunch time-ish. The older ones continue to work after lunch, the younger ones do I know not what but they have been cooking, baking, digging up worms and generally learning how to play on their own without outside or electronic distractions. There have definitely been fewer fights than normal and it appears (via Face time or Zoom) that they are calmer, more able to just ‘play’ and even, dare I say, a better cooperation culture is emerging.

They range from 15-6 in 3 families, the most labour intensive being the 9-year-old and her 6-year-old twin brothers. They have a garden, so are some of the lucky ones- playing out has become part of the routine (“We have to play out for an hour at a time”)

However, as an ex-teacher I watch the adults trying to juggle their work and the properties of a quadrilateral and I don’t envy them.  Most of them spend the day in conference calls, which requires a different level of concentration and my eldest son has asked the children to text him and their mum when they need help. Being in the next room seems a bit OTT but it’s working.

Or it was until the 10-year-old had a message from his teacher – he HAD to build a working volcano … he texted his parents – both of whom were knee deep in keeping the economy going. A once very calm mum went mad and threw her toys out of the pram-

‘How can we be expected to do that?’

‘Does the teacher not realise we have to work too?’

‘How the … do we make it froth?’

They compromised and he built a building of interest instead with help from his older brother (The leaning Tower of Pisa)

When the message from the teacher was re-read, there were  about 20 options, including the volcano, but not a building of interest! Am sure going off piste won’t be the difference between a stellar career or failure…

Finally, some friends with autistic children have found that they are calmer at home, without the hustle of uniforms and deadlines to meet every 45 mins and are learning well. They are seriously considering what sort of education will be best for them in the future …

from Steph in London, UK: a shrinking world …

April 24 I haven’t worn a watch since we went into splendid isolation. I’m not sure why I decided not to wear one but I suppose as I don’t have to be anywhere it doesn’t really matter what time it is.

I am reminded of a book – Station 11 by Emily St John Mendel. A fictional account of a world pandemic – will re-read it to see if it’s still as good and what with Bill Gates Ted talk in 2015, we may have an insight into our future …

 Everybody’s world is shrinking so much and that’s the thing that is so frustrating. So the irritation stakes are getting higher … immediately the thought of home schooling my boys whilst holding down a job kicks me out of it. I’m reminded of when I was doing an MA. I worked full time, had 3 teenagers and was a single mother. Assignment time was a nightmare and often I’d work til 4 or 5 in the morning trying to get it all done.

I must remind son number 2 of his comments then—- “Mum, you’re a lousy role model working all night to get your essays done” wonder what he thinks now as he juggles his job and 2 teenagers , who would be quite happy being glued to their devices til the end of lockdown…

Rumours abound about the over 70 being kept in lockdown for the foreseeable future– that’s the end of the House of Lords then- in one swoop …the House of Commons being left for the boys (and too few girls)

Getting exercised about being locked down, semi-locked down or isolated for the foreseeable future. Does it come from an underlying cynicism about the government’s ability to sensibly sort this out, get testing both before and after the norm or just being news weary?

 The complexities of getting the economy up and running must have a quid pro quo element – will Boris be his usual gung-ho self or be more circumspect when deciding what to do when? Will the economists and scientists be able to reach a compromise?

In our new reality world, we took delivery of 3 tons of top soil for the garden, which caused so much excitement … I’d better go and put it into the raised beds.

And my daughter-in-law hits 50 this week. A House Party instead of a real party and real celebrations when we can. We sent a video of us washing our hands to Happy Birthday to you!

from Steph in London, UK: will all be well?

April 16. I was in the garden this morning and a heron flew over followed by 4 ducks, who landed on a neighbour’s roof. If this wasn’t North London, I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid but I wonder what our wild life make of the new world. The owl still hoots at night and the woodpecker seems to have taken up residence close by.  The rather handsome fox still walks across the garden at about 6 am every morning- either going home or going out … I have yet to find out. The lack of airplane noise gives us a clarity of sound I can’t remember having unless we were in the Lake District or Scotland or Wales. And I can see the stars…

My confidence that all will be well is waning fast. Lockdown or not, life for the foreseeable future looks more than restrictive and I can’t see being able to be spontaneous with travel, socialising and everything we took for granted a mere few months ago. Instead of thinking weeks then months I’m beginning to think in blocks of 6-12 months … And what little confidence I have in our political masters has once again hit the ground. No PPE, not enough testing kits in the right places, not enough access to the testing kits at all, a complete disregard for the care sector and boys trying to play at being men..I wonder if a more experienced government would be doing  it better or whether it’s so far out of left field everybody would be  floundering… but why are Germany, New Zealand etc etc coping…… surely not as simple as only a woman leader?

Having always been ‘doers’ this new enforced passivity does not sit well on our shoulders- or those of most of the people we know of our vintage. From being proactive, useful members of our communities and beyond, we have all been consigned to the at risk group and as such to the keep quiet and wait for the next instruction. We’ve even been taken off the street litter rota –  I hate being categorised. Perhaps that’s why Captain Tom Moore has hit such a nerve with everyone.

I might suggest I cycle (on the machine) to Manchester to see the grandchildren up there, for no particular reason than ‘why not’ and probably if I could admit it, to prove we are not totally useless. I’m still thinking …