Photographs shared on social media following the return of pupils this week have brought to light a disparity between public perception of the conditions under which schools have been reopened and the reality.
Images of whole senior school year groups of several hundred pupils filling assembly halls, and large groups of children in close proximity posing for first day photographs have been proudly displayed on school websites to celebrate the return of pupils. These images have then been shared on social media with public reactions ranging from disbelief that the images were not taken prior to the pandemic, to dismay that while year group assemblies may technically be allowable within the guidance to schools, they are entirely out of step with Government guidance for every other setting.
Public messaging and media images in the immediate run up to the full reopening of schools provide context to these reactions; a photograph of the Prime Minister in a classroom demonstrating the two-meter social distancing rule by spreading his arms, the Government guidance for full opening of schools which states that staff should “Minimise contact between individuals and maintain social distancing whenever possible”, and a Government sponsored editorial published in several news outlets on 28th August 2020, entitled “Safety first as school pupils return to classrooms”. The piece displayed an image of children sitting far apart, with the caption “WARM WELCOME: Children will be socially distanced in the classroom”.
Yet, every classroom photograph since the reopening exposes this claim as falsehood. Row upon row of desks in close proximity with children in every seat, in classrooms clearly too packed to allow any distancing. One tweeter observed of a BBC news article –
“ “We need to keep our distance, wear masks & walk on the correct side of the corridor” said Luke as he sits TOUCHING ELBOWS with Jacob.”
This disparity has not resulted from a lack of effort on the part of school leaders – they have done their very best to make schools as safe as possible with the resources they have. Despite the UK having classrooms overcrowded with the largest class sizes in the developed world, and repeated calls from Education Unions for resources to implement Covid safety measures, Government guidance states that “Schools should use their existing resources to make arrangements to welcome all children back.”
Social distancing is a fallacy in classrooms… because it is impossible.