On Tuesday of this week, I watched the BRIT Awards 2021. I love the BRITs – there are always some amazing performances, and something unexpected or off-script always happens! But this year, it was really special just to see a crowd of people, without face masks, enjoying live music in a venue. It felt like a step back to pre-COVID normality.
Of course, the evening was topped off for me when Taylor Swift won the Global Icon award, and gave a fantastic speech.
“There might be times when you put your whole heart and soul into something and it is met with cynicism or scepticism. You cannot let that crush you: have to let it fuel you. Because we live in a world where anyone has the right to say anything that they want about you at any time. But just please remember that you have the right to prove them wrong.”Taylor Swift at the BRIT awards, May 2021
The previous night, I was tuned into the government’s coronavirus briefing. This was also, for once, a positive experience. The data on the virus indicates that the reopening of schools on March 8th has not triggered a surge in cases. The vaccine rollout continues to go well. We need to keep an eye on new variants of COVID-19, some of which may be of concern – but at the moment, things are going in the right direction. And, as a result, we can continue with the gradual “unlocking” of the lockdown.
For schools, this means the end of face coverings for students in classrooms and social spaces. Our students have been unfazed by the government guidance from March 8th, and have worn their face coverings properly to protect staff and one another. Exemptions have been issued where necessary. They have got on with the job in hand.
From Monday 17th May, face coverings will only be required on home to school transport, or on public transport to and from school (unless exempt). Students will not be required to wear face coverings in school. However, if students wish to continue to wear one, they will be permitted to do so.
Even though we recognised the public health imperative for mandatory face coverings in schools, there is no denying that it has been harder to teach and learn in a classroom full of covered faces. Education relies so much on relationships, which are based on good communication. So much communication is carried by facial expressions which are obscured by a face covering – not to mention the difficulty of making yourself heard through the cloth. Many staff have said how much they are looking forward to seeing their students’ smiles again – and I agree.
However, as we saw last summer, this virus can surge. There are already concerns about variants on the rise in parts of England. If the public health situation worsens again, and face coverings have to return, we know that we can manage it well. But we also know that education is so much better when you can see the full face of the person you are talking to.
So, from Monday, school will feel a little bit more like normal. We will be able to visit one another’s homes. Live music, cinema, and theatre are returning. Sport will have a live audience. We have worked so hard for one another over this past year. This “unlocking” feels like a release. We’ve earned it.