SARAH VINE: It's madness to treat our schools like nail bars

SARAH VINE: It’s madness to treat our schools like nail bars or nightclubs

When we think of the negative effects of lockdown, the first image that springs to mind is that of the lonely pensioner, isolated, or in a care home, unable to see loved ones.

But for me, as the mother of two children, there’s another image, one I find equally disturbing. That of the lone teenager, cut off from friends, locked in their bedroom staring at a screen, scrolling mindlessly through social media or messaging long into the night.

Sitting slumped in pyjamas on their bed instead of upright at a desk in uniform; struggling to find the motivation to open their books or draw up their revision cards; wrestling with the vagaries of Microsoft Teams or Google Classroom, trying to muster the enthusiasm for yet another half-hearted online lesson.

Wondering what the point of all of this is anyway, since exams will probably be cancelled. Again. Knowing that even if you do get to sixth-form or university, the chances of enjoying anything like a normal experience are vanishingly small. Worrying that even if you do get a degree, there won’t be any jobs, since lockdown has destroyed the economy.

Sarah Vine said: ‘As the mother of two children, there’s another image, one I find equally disturbing. That of the lone teenager, cut off from friends, locked in their bedroom staring at a screen, scrolling mindlessly through social media or messaging long into the night’ (stock image)

Perhaps feeling guilty because, as many people never tire of reminding you, it is you, with your healthy asymptomatic immune systems, who are the super-spreaders, you who are contributing to the rising death toll.

No wonder health professionals are reporting an alarming rise in cases of depression and anxiety among teenagers. Only yesterday, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health reported a record number of young people being admitted to hospital with eating disorders brought about by the stress of lockdown.

Girls are disproportionately affected, in particular high-achieving students derailed by exam cancellations and general uncertainty over future prospects; or, in some cases, simply spending too much time online looking at ‘influencers’ with their unrealistic aesthetic of physical perfection. But boys are succumbing, too.

Across the board, mental health professionals are identifying uncharacteristically high levels of self-harm and suicidal thoughts. Because while younger, primary school-aged children have tended to benefit from spending more time at home, those of secondary school age have not.

‘Sitting slumped in pyjamas on their bed instead of upright at a desk in uniform; struggling to find the motivation to open their books or draw up their revision cards; wrestling with the vagaries of Microsoft Teams or Google Classroom, trying to muster the enthusiasm for yet another half-hearted online lesson,’ Sarah Vine said (stock image)

That’s because schools are far more than exam factories. They are essential to the physical, emotional and intellectual development of young people. School is where they learn how to be adults, within the confines of a carefully structured environment.

So it beggars belief that we could even contemplate shutting them again. That they could fall into the ‘non-essential’ category of services, alongside nail bars and nightclubs. And yet here we are.

The teaching unions want to close for as long as possible for their own political ends, SAGE scientists are talking about February half-term, while the Government is considering delaying the start of term by a fortnight or so. I, for one, think it’s madness.

For a start, I don’t buy the difficulties with testing being cited by the unions. If teachers and heads don’t want to carry out tests, get the Army to do it like they did with the lorry drivers at Dover. How hard can it be to put a few squaddies in a tent in the playground of every secondary school, and nab the little plague rats?

You could then have the added benefit of being able to vaccinate the vulnerable relatives of any child who tested positive.

As to the threat posed to teachers, the answer is obvious: vaccinate every member of staff over the age of 60 or with underlying conditions. Or over 50, if you really want to be on the safe side.

Of course, there may be 1,001 reasons why none of these suggestions is practical. But we need to try. If the scientists demanded we shut down our transport system, or close all supermarkets, the Government wouldn’t even consider it. The well-being of the nation’s children is, for me, equally non-negotiable.

These are the people who, theoretically, are going to dig us out of the hole coronavirus has thrown us in. They can’t do that if they miss out on an education.

And they certainly can’t do that if they are stuck in their rooms, depressed and lonely and wondering why, having sacrificed so much to protect the older generation, we seem intent on hanging the next one out to dry.

PRIDE AND PREJ ON ACID

Phoebe Dynevor and with Regé-Jean Page in Bridgerton

The other night, faced with yet another evening of execrable terrestrial TV, I started watching Bridgerton on Netflix. Several episodes, a pile of Quality Street wrappers and the best part of a bottle of Chablis later, I was still glued to the action.

It is wonderfully silly and totally addictive, like Pride And Prejudice on acid — with lashings of sex.

It’s also the perfect show for lockdown, not just on account of the lavish array of devastatingly good-looking young men, led by Regé-Jean Page as the rakish Duke of Hastings, but also because it made me realise how Covid has taken us back to the time of Jane Austen. Friends meet only in the park, life is governed by a rigid set of confusing rules — and anyone who strays from social norms is publicly shamed.

It’s only a matter of time before I start wearing a bonnet and practising my quadrilles.

It is wonderfully silly and totally addictive, like Pride And Prejudice on acid — with lashings of sex 

The story of the woman who got a £100 parking fine for over-running because she was giving CPR to a dying man is proof, were it needed, that no good deed goes unpunished. The fact Euro Car Parks, who issued the fine, has refused her appeal is proof — also not strictly necessary — that parking enforcement firms have no heart.

One sliver of a silver lining: not having to go anywhere on New Year’s Eve. But I shall be staying up until midnight to open the back door, so that this ghastly year can take its leave. Here’s to a happier — and healthier — 2021.

A second-hand bra and a potato peeler are among the list of least successful Christmas gifts, as compiled by the consumer group Which?. I have no complaints in that department — unlike a friend, whose ex-husband gave her an exercise book. As in a book about exercise. So not even useful, merely insulting. 

A second-hand bra and a potato peeler are among the list of least successful Christmas gifts, as compiled by the consumer group Which?

Why not slope off?

I don’t blame the British skiers in Verbier who, rather than spend ten days stuck in quarantine, decided to break for the border.

Even though skiing is the perfect self-isolation sport, the same thing happened to some friends of mine elsewhere in Switzerland. They duly complied with the order to isolate, only to be told they had to drive an hour to get tested (fine to leave quarantine for that, obviously) and then hide away for a further 48 hours until the results arrived. By which point, of course, it was time to go home.

As the mother of a teenage boy, I am familiar with the dangers posed by toxic underwear, but even I was shocked to read that one of the operatives allegedly involved in the attempt to kill Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader, has confessed to trying to poison him via his pants. Even by the usual standards of Putin’s Russia, that is decidedly below the belt.

SPOTIFY THE DIFFERENCE

Does anyone else think it a little odd that Meghan and Harry, having left Britain because they wanted more privacy, are now baring their souls for their star-studded Archewell podcast?

Or maybe it’s simply the case that the paltry £2.4 million (now paid back) stumped up by the British taxpayer to refurbish Frogmore Cottage in Windsor just couldn’t compete with the millions apparently coming their way from Spotify.

Whatever it is, it’s been enough to tempt them to share an audio glimpse of baby Archie, who makes an appearance on the new edition. Which is rather more than the British people ever got for our pains.

Sarah Vine asked: ‘Does anyone else think it a little odd that Meghan and Harry, having left Britain because they wanted more privacy, are now baring their souls for their star-studded Archewell podcast?’

More than 1,500 chickens acquired during lockdown have been abandoned, according to the RSPCA. Let’s hope the same fate does not await the countless puppies bought during the same period. Remember: An animal is for life, not just for Covid.

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