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Monday, November 29, 2021

Will school Scrooges put paid to children’s Nativity dreams?

One of the sweetest joys of the festive season is the Nativity play. I feel deeply nostalgic for the time when I had to find a stripey tea-towel to make a headdress for my little shepherd and wings for my grumpy “S’not fair, why can’t I be Mary?” angel. (It can take 50 years to recover from not being chosen to be Mary, and some may still nurse a grudge.)

On one, never-to-be-forgotten occasion, our small boy was cast as God by a drama teacher who really should have known better. Perched atop a ladder, God discovered he could use his foil star to catch the shining spotlight above the stage and bounce it onto the headmaster’s bald head. Parents who were present still recall God’s father (Himself) sprinting down the aisle, shouting, “Thomas, STOP IT!”

After the dreadful, alienating period which children have endured these past 18 months, they deserve all the fun and magic and group activities they can get this Christmas. But public-sector Scrooges have other ideas. I have heard of plays and carol concerts and fayres being cancelled “because of Covid levels” even though most children have had the virus with scarcely a sniffle, their parents are vaccinated and Grandma and Grandpa have had their booster.

While adults are enjoying parties and work events, it seems that schools and councils are pursuing a policy of zero Covid despite advice to the contrary from the Government.

Andy Kingdom, public health director at East Riding Council, is typical of the glum, neurotic breed. He has warned of a “Little Donkey effect” with Nativity plays and other school events spreading coronavirus while youngsters could “act as vectors for infections”. Oh, do shut up, you old misery!

Thanks to the vaccine rollout and natural infection (Covid has gone through schools like a dose of salts) some 92 per cent of adults now have antibodies. And children were never strongly implicated in infection anyway. There is no reason whatsoever to cancel school events or send kids home because one boy in the class sneezes. Indeed, given the appalling mental health crisis among our young people, it is unforgivable to persist in treating them like lepers, denying them the healing pleasure of togetherness.

The most distressing school story I have heard recently came from Jane, whose daughter suffered terribly during lockdown. Jessie being denied access to her playmates was, her mother thought, “cruel and entirely unnecessary”. But, at least, once she started a new term, things would be back to normal. Bizarrely, the previously sensible and pragmatic school, decided to reintroduce mask-wearing “to keep the children and staff safe”.

“I have yet to find any evidence as to why wearing a piece of cloth with gaps at the side all day long is ‘keeping my daughter safe’,” fumed Jane. Furthermore, the decision was taken after the Covid vaccine had been given to all children who wanted it. But it was another email from school containing the following sentence that shocked Jane to the core. “Those pupils who were exempt from wearing a mask last academic year will once again be exempt and should wear a yellow badge to indicate this,” it said.

Take a minute to absorb that. A school is singling out pupils by making them wear a yellow badge. Is the school’s head so astronomically dim that they have never heard of the way Nazi Germany ostracised its Jews? If so, education is in more trouble than we knew.

It is the old, not the young, who are afflicted by Covid. Society has no business insisting that its youngest members put on masks when they are at no risk. But to make kids who, for whatever reason, can’t cover their face, wear a yellow sign of stigma, well, that goes beyond anything that is acceptable in a decent country. I hope that Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi will intervene immediately to halt this abomination.

Children deserve all the freedoms adults now have. Let them sing Little Donkey, let a new generation of girls grow up to be peeved they weren’t Mary, let God get told off by his daddy for showing off. They have already lost one year of precious memories, let them not lose another Christmas.

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