Back to school vs back to gym: England’s interrupted rhythms of life


Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Those making their way back to the gym for the first time since March 11, when the WHO declared a pandemic, may probably feel more sanguine than parents looking to soon despatch their children to school in England.

Gyms, by all account, have done a pretty good job of making themselves Covid-19 safe. They’ve introduced stringent guidelines such as asking customers to book a slot in advance and to commit to staying for only a limited amount of time. They’ve banned the use of changing facilities, ensured the adequate social distancing of exercise bikes, rowing machines, flat benches and other equipment and they’ve also got one-way systems and hand-sanitising stations.

But back to school in England is a more testing prospect by far. The medical advice is that it is safe to reopen schools, or at least that it will be within reasonable bounds of risk. But Prime Minister Boris Johnson has created abundant confusion. In June, he dropped plans to reopen schools in England before the summer holidays. Then this month (August) he said that returning to school in the autumn is a “moral issue”.

Parents and teachers expressed concern and the real reason for this, unfortunately, is that the prime minister and his government have handled the coronavirus crisis with glibness, a scattershot approach, constant chopping and changing and boosterism of the most blustering and bombastic sort.

That is why even as the Spaniards, Swedes, Germans and Italians return to work and school, the English are worried when asked to do the same. Not so much the back to gym routine because those are commercial places, which know how to give their customers what they need, ie. confidence in their competence. But it’s English schools, managed by local education authorities and thereby, ultimately the government, that betray the lack of confidence in Mr Johnson’s government.