The rule of 6…

Sunday 13 September 2020

You must not meet socially in groups of more than six. “And, if you do, you will be breaking the law.”

Boris Johnson 9 Sep 2020

As Covid 19 cases in the UK start to rise steeply again, the Government responds with ‘The Rule of Six’. In my world however, the challenges of work and home suggest that rules are not really the way I navigate life …I’m much more a ‘guiding principles’ girl!

Being a mathematician,  you’d expect me to like rules. And I do. I like mathematical rules! And this is why. In my beautiful subject, unique in academic circles for its puritanical approach to ‘proof’, when we define rules we also state precisely the parameters in which they will work. Hence, everyone is clear where and when we apply a rule and where we do not. In other areas of life, alas, this is not the case.

Muddying rules, in many other, less rigorous domains, is the murky concept of  ‘the exception‘ And the problem with exceptions, in hastily conceived plans, is that they divert attention to loop holes, lead to rule bending, challenge concepts of fairness and create confusion. Thus, even before Boris ambles to the lectern to guide us through ‘The Rule of 6’, the radio phone-ins have already gone into overdrive discussing, ‘But what about …?’ , ‘Does this mean ….?’ ‘So can I …? queries. In all the uproar, the important rationale behind this latest dictate seems lost.

At work too, there is no escape from the impact of the virus. Whereas Week 1 was a celebration of being back, Week 2 brings into sharp focus the reality of learning in the time of Corona. Several local schools have already been told to close to classes or year group bubbles. Although we escape this for now, we have a growing number of pupils on the ‘Covid-concern‘ list. CPD sessions are hastily rearranged to bring training on: remote learning and blended learning forward, and as a collective we plan for quality educational provision against several different scenarios. Staff, refreshed by their August break, are up for the challenge and the team leading on teaching and learning are imaginative and inventive. Their plan looks terrific and it needs to; we are already in ‘Scenario 1’.

Our first scenario is that individual pupils are in isolation, whilst the rest of the school operates as usual, and these remote learners need a programme to follow from home. The work is organised. Challenge number 2 is that central government also advise on who should get it! Leafing frantically through the dense DfE guidance, someone suggests a flow chart of rules to follow. I look at the length of the pupil list, I imagine us tying ourselves in knots chasing and keeping track of: dates, times and validity conditions, I shudder at the prospect of communicating it all to parents … and I shake my head.

“Let’s not do that!”  I interject

Let’s do this. When the parent explains their reasons, or confirms the test status, or test wait time (because kind readers the reported 24 hour turn around is a myth), let’s just ask ourselves one ethical question, ‘In terms of their quality of education, is it in this child’s best interest to send work home or not?‘”

Why might you not want to send work home?’  I hear you cry.

Well there are very occasional reasons, but I shall spare you these for now. The point really is this. We frame our decision making around a principle, as opposed to a set of rules, and it seems just as powerful … but a whole lot easier.

At home, I stutter through a very tense week. School now stays open late and so my working day reverts to an 8-6. It is a shock to a household used to me being omni-present. The laundry baskets groan with washing, we rarely eat before 8, homework is hastily remembered at 10pm and … tempers fray. By Saturday, I reside in a dwelling where: one child is nursing a hangover, another has not spoken to any of us for days, a third claims daily to have Covid 19 and be unfit for school and their mother feels as if she has locked horns with all of them and is permanently on ‘ranting-nag mode’ . It is not very nice for anyone and I decide it is time to morally question myself.

In the interests of a happy homestead,’ I voice aloud, ‘what would now be the best course of action?

I take paracetemol and a strong coffee into one room, I take study-snack chocolate, a sympathetic ear and a good chunk of listening time into a second and a thermometer (plus knowing smile) into the third. It is by no means a instantly perfect solution, but the mood definitely lifts and the weekend looks … manageable at least!!

Maybe a guiding principle is not workable for a National Public Health message but I would really welcome a shared ethical understanding to encourage buy-in and co-operation, as opposed to a seeming quest to find a way ‘out of the rules’…

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