How might things be different on the other side

There was a very good piece on the BBC website at the end of last week. You may have spotted it – 12 journalists speculating on how life could change after the world emerges from the current trauma. Will it be back to business as usual in their specialist area or could things be different? The questions was asked and some of the responses were predictable, but it made me think both for myself and how my habits might change, but also on a broader canvas. What might be different for us all, for better or for worse…?

One of the changes is obvious but striking in industry, commerce and education. Before March I had used video conferencing on a small number of occasions, always where I needed to talk to another professional who was overseas, and almost always for interview purposes. Since the start of the current restrictions I have been using this technology every day to talk to staff and students in different sized groups and combinations. I have participated in governor meetings at other institutions, have chaired a meeting of Heads across a number of schools and the first BWS Full Governing Board Meeting is now scheduled for just over a week’s time. I agree with the Technology Correspondent (Zoe Kleinman), that (a) the infrastructure has broadly held up quite well and (b) there is almost certain to be a permanent change in custom in this area. Video meetings, I am sure, are here to stay – and that’s no bad thing in the quest for a carbon-neutral economy. The inevitable down side will be the impact that technological innovation and adoption will have on the transport industry. A similar effect is likely to be felt in terms of international students argues Branwen Jeffreys, as they are less likely to want to travel to be educated on the other side of the World which could have serious implications for the business models of both private schools and UK universities. The desire for a Western-style education will still be strong, and the pulling power of the most competitive British universities will surely mean that market will persist, but the stepping stones to the Russell Group may be built in countries of origin as parents make more conservative choices.

Social distancing is here to stay, for a while at least (pending the development of a widely available vaccine), and this will pose enormous problems wherever people used to gather for events in the past. Concert halls, theatres, cinemas, restaurants, museums, galleries, clubs, sports venues, public transport – and schools – will need to develop practical strategies to mitigate the risk of infection. Reducing population density is difficult enough to wrestle with, but the economic viability of lots of these activities is directly proportional to the patronage. In schools it is likely that when the boys return the priority will be those who are closest to their public exams, and even then we can only legislate for so much. Come September it is very difficult to see how over 1,000 youngsters could be accommodated on site simultaneously with an acceptable level of risk.

Mark Easton (Home Editor) focused on what he called ‘neighbourliness’, and here I think that there is room for some optimism. When society is put under stress people do pull together, and I think that you can sense this at present. Ignoring the usual outpourings of vitriol on social media, lots of well-balanced people are doing great things for others in their local community. In my local village the Parish Clerk has got together a list of willing volunteers to help others who are vulnerable, shielded or self-isolating. I offered my services but have not been called up as there are so many others who have stepped forward. I do hope that these invisible threads, this gravity which draws individuals together when things get hard is long lasting, and that the same enduring threads and connections are there for the school community too. Certainly the feedback on social media suggests that this is what is going on.

The metaphorical last word in the article went to Simon Jack (BBC Business Editor). He said, memorably for me, ‘We all hope for a return to business as usual. It’s not going to happen’. Too true – but in my view, there will be difficulties but it’s certainly not all doom and gloom…