Schools reopen on Monday, which means so does mask madness 2.0.
Have you been cheering on the vaccination programme and thinking maybe the rubes we have in government aren’t quite as incompetent as critics like me have been arguing?
If so, I invite you to consider the performance of Gavin Williamson’s Department for Education, which appears to me to be run not by human beings but by Jim Henson’s muppets, with the secretary of state playing the role of MC Kermit the Frog.
While it’s debatable whether it’s even sensible to reopen schools at this point, the way of handling the move would have been to offer up clear guidance. I’m thinking along lines of: mask wearing will be mandatory in secondary schools for those who are able, with opt outs for kids with medical issues and/or conditions such as autism.
As it is, masks are only recommended. This has left hard-pressed headteachers, already being asked to manage an extraordinarily difficult exercise, caught in between a rock and a hard place.
On the one hand, they need to keep staff, and pupils, safe. Trouble is, pupils don’t always behave well. Nor do their parents. In fact, the little darlings worst excesses can sometimes pale by comparison to the tantrums thrown by some of their mothers and fathers – but it is these parents the Department for Education seems to be catering to.
So what are heads to do when maskless teens play hell and their parents follow suit? Kick them out? Say no mask, no school? Send those who forget their face coverings to the back of the class? See if whichever teenager runs the school’s illicit trade in ciggies is willing to cough up some of their supply to enable teachers to go and have a socially-distanced puff behind the the bike sheds?
I'm certainly not promoting smoking, but I'd be hard-pressed to blame them for indulging in the latter, and damn the long term health implications, given that that appears to be how little regard the government seems to have to for their safety.
Even some Tories see the problem. Earlier this week, Robert Halfon, the chair of the Education Select Committee – one of those MPs who occasionally demonstrates that there are pockets of intelligence on the Conservative backbench – correctly called for “definitive regulations” to clear up the issue.
Isn’t that what governments are supposed to issue? What are they otherwise there for, other than – I don’t know – dressing up like Henson’s creations and then singing and dancing on their way over to the House of Commons to shout at each other.
We haven’t considered the subject of primary schools yet, so let’s open up that can of worms. Consider the response of Redbridge Council, which is the august body to which I pay my council tax and have a somewhat fraught relationship with.
Here’s where it managed to get something right: the council decided that it was going to listen to the advice of the independent Sage committee of scientists, whose members know what they are talking about, and encourage the use of masks at its primary school.
Getting younger children to wear them isn’t as hard as the whinging brigade of Covid-deniers, who’ve obviously never been outside on Halloween, would have you believe.
My primary-age child wears a mask on the rare occasions she gets out these days and sometimes wonders why other people make such a fuss.
This proves she’s a lot more grown up than the people we foolishly elected to run the country as the issue of masks and her fellow pupils went beyond the Department of Education and up to the big-kahuna Kermit in No 10.
Downing Street said that officials had been in contact with Redbridge officials, after council leader Jas Athwal said “in some cases” the council had gone beyond the government advice.
When it comes to trying to put local authorities – that are trying to do the right thing – in their place, it appears that the government is actually capable of governing. Unfortunately, it’s the wrong kind.
I realise this very British stew isn’t quite at the level of the idiocy witnessed in the US, where in Texas and Mississippi the Republican governors have dropped mask mandates despite the fact that the pandemic is still raging and their citizens are still dying.
But it’s still mind-bendingly stupid and only reinforces my view that if the virus had a collective intelligence it would be busy laughing at us.