We join a hurriedly scheduled Teams meeting.
Headteacher: (In conservatory, wearing casual holiday gear) Everyone here?
Assistant headteacher: (In front of a well-curated bookshelf) Yes.
Head of year: (Camera off; sound of dogs barking) … and STAY in the bloody garden this time... (Door slams; sound of substantial woman easing herself into chair). Hi. Yes. Here. Am I muted? (Mutes self)
HT: You are now.
HOY: (Switches camera on – view of cleavage in dressing gown as HOY reaches to adjust camera. She sits down and unmutes. The sound of muffled but frenzied barking can be heard) Sorry. Hi. Morning. All good.
HT: Sorry to have to call this meeting, but before term starts we need to do something about masks.
AHT: Any news on guidance from the DfE?
HT: (Consults notes) Well, on Monday, the advice was that masks in schools were NOT recommended.. then… on Tuesday…
HOY: (Mutters) Sounds like Craig David.
HT: …it was announced that face coverings in schools in high-risk locations will be mandatory for all students and staff in communal areas…
AHT: Communal areas..?
HT: Corridors, common rooms, dining areas…
HOY: How do they eat?
HT: Hang on. (Consults notes) Not dining areas.
AHT: Does it say anything about bubbles?
HT: As far as I can work out, it’s when the microbubbles meet up with the macrobubbles…
HOY: When the bubble of 30 meets up with the bubble of 270?
AHT: ...then bubbles merge on the school buses.
HT: Not actually compulsory on school buses.
AHT: So let’s get this straight? It may well become mandatory in corridors when they’re within their bubbles…but not on the school bus where they mix with other bubbles?
HT: (Musing) …No…
HOY: …and classrooms? Are classrooms communal?
AHT: Not classrooms…
HOY: And it’s only in places where local lockdown measures are in place?
HOY: So, for the time being, we’re OK and we don’t need masks?
HT: The thing is – and I’m not intending to add to workload here – there have been so many U-turns since Monday…
HOY: One minute masks are out, the next minute masks are in. Good Lord – it’s less of a U-turn, more of a precautionary hokey-cokey.
AHT: Indeed – we have no idea what’s coming next.
HT: Precisely. Forewarned is forearmed.
AHT: Fail to prepare, prepare to fail…
HOY: …ironically, the theme of my last pre-lockdown assembly.
HT: We put together a face-covering policy just in case.
AHT: Where do we start?
HT: (Displays current uniform document on screen) Let’s have a look at where we are with trousers. (Reads from policy)
- Not too tight
- No denim
- No canvas
- No studs or rivets
- No showy zips or ornate fastenings
- No logos
AHT: (Chuckles) Well there’s hardly likely to be masks with studs, rivets or zips.
HOY: Au contraire… (Types busily; displays online images of face masks with studs, rivets, zips, ornate fastenings, logos and rude names for the prime minister)
AHT: Right. What about denim?
HOY: (Googles "denim masks") Yep – they exist and apparently… (Reads intently) …they provide better protection than ordinary cotton.
AHT: This is like the time we discovered trainers are actually better for their feet.
HT: Anything that can be cleaned with a single wet wipe?
HOY: (Googles) Well, it says here there’s PVC…(Clicks) …Oh, my EYES! Aren’t there safe-search settings on this thing? (Deletes search history)
HT: (Ignoring HOY, and for good reason) No balaclavas, obviously, or morph masks. And we ought to be ruling out football teams, band names, Avengers, Marvel…
AHT: Let’s not forget tractors: we don’t want to reignite the old John Deere-Massey Ferguson feud.
HT: Tell you what: why don’t we limit colours to black, navy or grey?
HOY: What about patterns?
HT: If it’s restricted to those colours, I don’t see a problem.
HOY: Say there’s magic-eye patterns that look innocuous up close, but from a distance spell out “wanker”?
AHT: Is there such a thing?
HOY: (Googles) Oh my God…I was only joking…and there are ones that have secret rude words in the folds…
AHT: Ooooh – hang on. House colours.
HT: (Makes notes) Great idea for next year, maybe. But we need to keep this straightforward.
HOY: There’s bound to be kids with personalised masks, with their name on.
AHT: In the absence of facial features, it’s always nice to know who’s walking you past you in the corridor.
AHT: What about kids with asthma?
HOY: With autism?
AHT: Who are anxious?
HOY: With glasses that steam up?
AHT: What happens if they don’t bring a mask? Or forget it? Or leave in in the canteen?
HOY: Or ping each other’s masks in the foyer?
AHT: Is there going to be a new consequence for mask violation?
HOY: Are we going to add a mask drill to tutor-time equipment checks?
The sound of dogs scrabbling at the back door can be heard from the direction of HOY’s screen.
HOY: I’m sorry…I’m going to have to…
HT: It’s OK. (Hastily scribbles more notes) Plenty to go on here. Pretty sure I can get something on the website before Wednesday… Now, before we go…one more thing.
HT: Socially distanced fire drills…
We tiptoe away as the dogs wind themselves into a frenzy, the coffee cools and the meeting rumbles on…
Sarah Ledger has been teaching English for 33 years