Back to schools
Sir: I share Lucy Kellaway’s enthusiasm for seeing school-life return and inequality gaps closed (‘A class apart’, 20 June). I was also glad that she debunked the myth that teachers have been on holiday during lockdown. It doesn’t feel like a holiday to me, as I sit contemplating a set of essays, the second set of predicted grades of the year and my annual Ucas references, not to mention daily work postings, live sessions on Microsoft Teams, Zoom staff meetings and a long list of emails.
Where we depart is at Lucy’s call for a return to school at all costs, rather than the ‘blended learning’ approach she decries. Having heard the Prime Minister seeking to unsettle Keir Starmer with his question about whether schools are safe, I was pleased Mr Starmer kept his counsel.
I was in my school last week. Owing to the Herculean efforts of the staff and the fact that just 116 of 1,600 students were in attendance, I can report that it felt ‘safe’. I cannot imagine it will feel this way if the government maintains its insistence that all students will return full-time in September, without any chance of social distancing. At least a ‘blended learning’ approach gives schools a chance of seeing all students on a rotation basis, developing clear routines again, building pastoral support, and keeping the learning going until a full return seems possible.
Sir: Lucy Kellaway says she is ‘not a lockdown sceptic who puts the economy above lives’. Nor am I and nor is any other sceptic. From the very beginning, those of us who opposed this disproportionate action warned that it would threaten life rather than save it.
Professor Sucharit Bhakdi of the University of Mainz warned on 18 March: ‘The life expectancy of millions is being shortened. The horrifying impact on the world economy threatens the existence of countless people. The consequences on medical care are profound… All this will impact profoundly on our whole society.’ I and a few others strove to publicise this in the face of a largely conformist media, and a totally conformist political class. It is, I suppose, a measure of our failure that an alert and educated member of our society such as Ms Kellaway should still believe the slander that we thought money more important than life.
Sir: Rory Sutherland and Matthew Lesh have a rather middle-aged view of working from home (‘Out of office’, 20 June). ‘WFH’ may be comfortable for fiftysomethings who know their work like the back of their hands — but they learnt their trade somewhere. That somewhere was probably an office, watching the generation above, emulating the best bits. Due to the marvels of broadband, we have young adult children working on video calls all over our locked-down house, but the drawbacks are clear. There is no one from whom to learn the basics, or to answer the simple questions that are too unimportant to commit to email, but which are a vital part of learning the ropes. This lack of face-to-face contact turns the learning curve into a steep uphill slope.
New ways to worship
Sir: While the government recommends that people place themselves in ‘bubbles’ to navigate the Covid-19 restrictions, we fear Douglas Murray has taken the instruction too seriously. Last week’s piece (‘Worship anywhere — apart from in church’, 20 June) appears oblivious to the reality of virtually every community in the country. Church buildings have indeed been closed by law as we seek to limit the spread of the virus. But far from a ‘total disappearance from national life’, we have been inspired to see how churches have risen to the challenge, seeking out new ways of worshipping God and serving our neighbours. Why, he asks, hasn’t the Church of England broadcast a weekly national service online to celebrate the eucharist and preach the gospel? We’re delighted to say that we have done just that and millions have logged on — many of them experiencing worship for the first time. Those who have taken part include the Pope and the Duke of Cambridge.
More than 5,000 parishes now offer worship online. For those without internet access, a free telephone worship line called Daily Hope has had more than 150,000 calls. We would be delighted if Douglas would join us this Sunday — or any day of the week — in any of the thousands of services, prayer groups, Bible studies or social gatherings which have emerged during these difficult times.
Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, Bishop of Gloucester
Retaining the ashes
Sir: Julian Glover’s article ‘Ashes to ashes’ (13 June) paints a sad picture. But there is hope that naturally occurring tree populations will increase — and mainly as a result of modern farming, not in spite of it. Here we have always nurtured self-sown trees in hedgerows, to the extent that the landscape is much fuller than it was 40 years ago. Like most farmers, we have planted trees as well. Modern mapping technology allows unproductive field areas to be accurately excluded, resulting in areas of tranquillity which are ideal for saplings. Weed species are removed by careful spot treatment with chemicals, as required by regulations, allowing trees to thrive. I am sure that there are now many more places on farms where trees can flourish on their own and, encouraged by the proposed environmental schemes, the decline Mr Glover describes can gradually be reversed.
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