As a teacher of 20 years’ experience in U.K. state high schools, over the last two and a half years I have been repeatedly struck with a mix of outrage and horror, and I often feel very alone in fighting this authoritarian new modus operandi of the human race.
I initially contacted children’s welfare campaign group UsforThem in Autumn 2020, because I shared and supported its views on the obvious and potential harm to children of coronavirus restrictions. With my direct links to a number of different educational institutions, I wanted to offer my experiences and anecdotes. I was delighted and impressed that this campaign group was rationally and successfully ordering its thoughts and arguments within a context that I could barely get anybody even to listen to me. Often I didn’t know where to start in debating other people’s actions.
I never countenanced complying with instructions for my family and me to ‘stay indoors’, to distance myself socially, or to isolate myself or any of my children. In fact, I never gave a moment’s consideration to doing any single thing which would adversely affect the quality of life we had strived carefully to build for our children over many years. We never stopped seeing those friends that would still see us, or our family; we never cancelled a Christmas, changed a holiday plan or backed out of going to the pub or theatre.
I never banged a pot or a pan in my garden. I never covered my face. I politely declined every enthusiastic exhortation to be tracked or to be traced, never leaving my personal details in any of the establishments I visited around the country. I never took any kind of test, vaccine or booster. Neither did I, in any way or at any time, deny the existence of Covid. I did wash my hands a bit more frequently and thoroughly – for a while. On a handful of occasions I accepted a handful of sanitiser, because fighting everyone, on everything, is really, really wearing. I always opened the windows at school and didn’t really mind being colder – it’s amazing to me how many staff fretted about the virus, poked and jabbed themselves repeatedly, kept their distance, but didn’t open the bloody windows! I marched in London to protest against school closures – twice. I wrote to my MP. I signed online petitions.
I challenged hostile staff and aggressive door policies at various Tesco stores in my area, a Waitrose, several other independent shops, and one very angry bus driver, and – usually – ‘won’. I stood up to McDonald’s for refusing entry to my son, and a private dentist clinic, and lost. I complained to my local authority as the employer of two haughty, haranguing and factually-flawed Covid marshals who skulked around my town, and was given the brush-off. I avoided anywhere with excessively aggressive, unpleasant signage – and still do. I am confounded by the lack of knowledge, professionalism, dignity, humility and respect that I have witnessed in so many fields; I cannot begin to imagine how this kind of prejudice and bigotry adversely affected really vulnerable people in our communities.
I took on my children’s different schools and college over a number of issues, including compulsory lanyard-wearing for facemask-exempt students, undue pressure placed on families and students to take LFTs, adults covering their faces beyond any mandated requirement for them to do so, and more. The way that my eldest son’s personal circumstances regarding face coverings were dealt with by his sixth form college was both deeply upsetting and immoral, as well as patently unlawful. When things became difficult for my 11 year-old, by now in Year 7, regarding pressure to wear a face covering in school, we kept him at home until the mandate was removed again. My Headteacher asked me in for chats about my exemption from wearing a face covering and, later, rumours circulating that I was a ‘Covid-denier’; our Safeguarding Lead needed some persuading that vulnerable children still covering their faces in June 2022 likely represents a worsening mental health problem.
As a teacher, I never stood in front of a single child who was being tricked, manipulated, forced or coerced to cover his or her face; I worked with my headteacher to find ways to keep me out of school at those times. Creating the lie that schools were places of danger or hazard for children, and sustaining that false impression for over two years, as well as the ludicrous, unproven notion that face coverings do anybody any good, were amongst the most offensive aspects of it all for me.
I do not know anyone who has been affected in any serious or long term way by the virus per se. And even if I did, even if the impact of the virus had been much worse, I would not have supported many of the restrictions advocated, supported and followed by so many. I just don’t believe we should remove freedoms to try to prevent the possible spread of a virus. It seems a crass and awkward thing to say, but nevertheless I believe it illustrates my point: if someone close to me had died of Covid, I am as certain as I can be that I still would not have supported removing freedoms as we did. I just don’t think my family or me are that important. I recognise that I seem to be quite alone in feeling that way.
It is now early July 2022 and I am exhausted. I still feel blindsided, poleaxed, by the events of March 2020 and everything that has followed. When I was 12 years old, I started a daily morning paper-round, and began a 30 year pseudo-obsession with media, current affairs and politics; I have had to turn my back on all that, as I have no interest in what the institutions of state have to say to me.
Such is the broken nature of state education as I now see it on a daily basis that when Robert Halfon (Chair of the Education Select Committee) asked me – three times – “and what can be done about it?”, I was unable to provide a satisfactory suggestion, beyond – with a hopeless shrug – “money”, oh, and “don’t repeat the mistakes“.
My children seem relatively unscathed as we protected them from as much fear and estrangement from normality as we could. My wife’s independent prep school, where she teaches, has mostly returned to its normality and life continues there, at least for now, more or less as before 2020. In my school, regular attendance has collapsed to unprecedented levels and has become a huge priority for us to tackle; behavioural issues, exclusions and mental health problems have soared; we have been collectively, suddenly overwhelmed and are woefully under-resourced, as are all our external means of support. A new form of disengagement has taken hold amongst swathes of previously hard-working, conscientious, able students. I can only presume that this is being replicated across every state high school, and that data will soon start to show the true scale of the problems our society has created.
I need a new career as I have essentially fallen out with my employer (the state), big time. I could do with some new friends, as it seems I remain quite seriously out of step with many of them, as indeed with the majority of the global population. I would like my family and me to leave the U.K., although that seems like a lot of upheaval, especially when everything, everywhere now feels so lacking in any certainty.
I fear a return of restrictions in the future, as I do not see the requisite level of regret that I think necessary to prevent it. I also fear the consequences of the inevitable financial crisis. I am deeply uncomfortable that humans seem to have become so fanatical about their ‘health’, specifically vis-à-vis one particular virus, and so disinterested in basic rights and freedoms.
I initially felt foolish when I couldn’t answer Robert Halfon’s question adequately. Sadly, on further reflection, I still don’t have a solution to offer him. But I don’t feel foolish; I just feel alone.
Fraser Krats is a secondary school teacher.