Opening up my Sky News app earlier this week, I was surprised to read that the government had been asked to consider weekly COVID testing for all teachers and students.
At first, I was slightly taken aback – it seemed such a draconian, laborious way for us to return to the classroom full time, but very quickly I had a change of heart. Weekly tests are the safest way for us to get children back into schools, and I’d implore the government to swiftly turn any such plans into reality.
We know that an alternative proposal will see the removal of our access to ‘general entertainment’ and ‘social interaction’, which I cannot agree with. Forcing us to remove ourselves from each other should be the last fallback position of any government. Jean Jacques Rousseau’s social contract theory holds that governments can only govern with the consent of the people, working on the basis that we function as an interactive community – not just as individuals. Removing this social element from the social contract risks making a mockery of our system of government.
Implementing weekly tests across all schools in England and Wales would provide a way round this, and also remove the need for staff and students to wear face masks. At the time of writing, the UK government hasn’t made the wearing of face masks compulsory for schools, but some academy trusts have opted to make them mandatory, the latter of which concerns me hugely.
Firstly, the wearing of face masks could lead to increased panic and hysteria amongst the younger members of our school communities, who won’t fully understand what’s happening and who will be looking to the adults around them for reassurance. Secondly, as a teacher, I need to be able to see children’s facial expressions so that I can pick up on all those non-verbal clues that are so essential to our profession.
On the one hand, they allow us to quickly identify misunderstandings and confusion; they also help us recognise those ‘lightbulb’ moments, when a child’s expression changes from one of angst and uncertainty to delight. Such moments are one of the highlights of being a teacher. Non-verbal communication is a fundamental prerequisite in any classroom environment.
Lessons in communication
It’s also important to note that our students are themselves still learning the art of communication. As adults, we’ve already nailed the essential concepts of interpersonal interaction and engagement, but our students haven’t. They’re still in the process of learning this vital skill – and it is a skill – and recognising the complex ways in which emotions are communicated via non-verbal cues derived from an individual’s facial expression.
Following a recent study into how human beings interact with one another, Dr. Albert Mehrabian, professor of psychology at the University of Los Angeles, concluded that the interpretation of a message is 7% verbal, 38% vocal and 55% visual. It thus follows that fully 93% of communication is non-verbal in nature – just let that sink in for a moment.
It’s for those reasons that I wrote to my local MP this week, expressing my support for weekly testing, and why I’d urge each one of you to do the same. There’s no longer a shortfall in testing equipment, and the quality of the tests themselves are improving all the time. There have even been reports lately of new tests that promise to deliver reliable results in just a matter of hours.
Surely, the solution for making schools safer isn’t to wear masks, but to ramp up the coronavirus testing.
Jayn Sadler is an English teacher from north Essex
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