By Kevin LloydINTRODUCTION
When schools closed early for Easter in March 2020, no one knew when they would open their doors again. Some felt that they would start as usual in late April, with the tacit expectation that the summer term would look similar to all the years that had preceded it. Within a few weeks, public exams had been abandoned for the year, and it was clear that the term would start substantially later than planned, if at all. Many schools had taken advantage of the Government’s Job Retention Scheme to defray the cost of workers no longer required. The word “furlough” had entered the public vocabulary.
The impact upon sport was similarly rapid and dramatic. The final stages of national competitions due to be played in late March were cancelled. By mid- April all National Governing Bodies (NGBs) had suspended sport at every level, from grassroots to international. Most initially set review dates, but followed up with “until further notice” declarations, many of which still apply. Desperate attempts are underway to try to restore professional sport, especially in Soccer, Cricket and Rugby as these games are haemorrhaging money in the absence of televised competition. The Olympic Games has been postponed for a year, for the first time in its history.
The implications for independent schools are enormous, and potentially catastrophic. The future of the sector is threatened. All are desperate to restore operations as early as can safely be managed, with whatever restrictions are necessary. There is a race to get back towards something recognisable, partly to address educational omissions, but also to justify fees. Sport and physical activity are a critical part of this. They are a distinguishing feature of the sector’s identity, and a central part of its business case. Also, they are the area of school life that will find it most difficult to accommodate travel, distancing and hygiene restrictions. The impact of the pandemic may influence the character of school sport forever. This could be either a positive or negative thing, depending upon how it is handled. It is vital that schools develop a coherent plan to handle the various stages of the process if they are to emerge with a programme that meets the needs of pupils, and is attractive to a potentially shrinking market.
All contingency planning is based on an assumption that the pandemic will have an enduring, though diminishing, legacy. In a rapidly changing landscape, all expectations are conditional. Medical developments, especially the availability of a vaccine, treatment or antibody test, would change everything. Schools must hope for this, but plan for the alternatives. This plan will recognise the three stages of recovery.