Tolerance is a Vaccine
Headmaster’s Routh Assembly Address
Monday 16th November 2020
Dispersed though you are right now, please let me start by thanking you all for your collective co-operation last week. You started the new Half Term the same way that you finished the last one, showing common sense and maturity in all that was asked of you. The new restrictions, especially the wearing of masks, have been taken seriously and I commend you for that.
Given the rapid rise in COVID cases around the country, including right here in Bromsgrove, it is inevitable that one of you will test positive for the virus at some stage. In fact, we have already dealt with a few cases in other parts of the School. Three pupils in the Pre-Prep and now the Prep School have caught it, causing others to have to self-isolate for two weeks as a result of being in contact with them. Although we were well-prepared and dealt with those situations quickly, there is one key lesson learned that I want to reiterate with you this morning.
Obviously, we are asking you to be particularly conscious of your own health and to report immediately if you feel that you have any of the three identifiable symptoms; a persistent cough, a raised temperature or a loss of taste or smell. But for people of your age, those things are often not evident, and you may well be infectious without even knowing. Which means the way that you behave, even when feeling fine, is critical.
When we get notification of a positive test from a pupil or a teacher, we follow a specific procedure. Our own internal track and trace, if you like. It starts with interviewing the person about every single encounter they had in the 48 hours before they fell ill or got a positive test.
It is an interesting exercise – you might try it on yourself sometime. Try going back in your mind through every minute of the past two days. What did I do yesterday morning? Who did I eat breakfast with? Who did I sit next to in every class? Who did I socialise with at break or lunch? How close were we? How long did we talk? Did a teacher lean over to help me with a problem? Did I have contact with anyone on the sports field?
The reason that we ask such detailed questions of someone who tests positive is that the answers determine how big the impact will be. Obviously, the infected person must go straight home and self-isolate. But who else has to go too, as a precaution, is a function of how careful they have been in the preceding days. The Government guidelines we follow are quite simple. Anyone who has been within 1 metre of you for more than one minute, or within 2 metres for more than 15 minutes without wearing a mask, is considered a close contact and will have to go.
Now, a year ago, the prospect of being sent home for two weeks to self-isolate might actually have sounded quite nice. But we have all lived through lockdowns and School closures now, and you know that it is not really an attractive alternative. If it must happen, we will do our best to keep your education going by Zoom, but you know that isn’t as good as actually being here, at School, in class with everyone else.
So that is the lesson I pass on to you this morning. Having now run our internal track and trace exercise a few times, I can tell you that the best outcomes have been from people who have been following the social distancing rules. People who have been mindful of keeping two metres apart from each other as much as possible. No one is to blame if they test positive – this virus is pernicious and hard to hide from. But you do have some responsibility for how many others that may have to isolate if you have been in close contact with them.
What we have learned from the cases in Prep and Pre-Prep is that it is the social breaks in the day when you are most at risk. In classrooms, you are well spread out and ventilated. Assemblies and Chapel have been suspended. Walking around in the fresh air of our grounds is fine.
However, it is when you gather in the Library, Routh, the Arena or the Sports Hall to socialise that you need to be more mindful. By all means socialise. But remain conscious of how close you are to one another and keep your masks on. Because that is what makes the biggest difference between who stays or goes.
One other thought from me as you start the new week. Despite what President Donald Trump might have hoped, wished, or believed, the biggest news in the world last week was not about him for a change. Even though his divisive and often intolerant presidency did finally come to an end, amazingly it wasn’t the main headline that captured the world’s attention. That honour went to the long-awaited news that a reliable vaccine against the COVID-19 virus may have been created.
There was some caution in that announcement of course. Final tests are still needed to guarantee that it will be completely safe and then it has to be rolled out to millions of people. However, scientists don’t make those sorts of announcements without being sure of their facts. And so, hope is in sight for an end to this pandemic, for us and for the rest of humanity.
Unfortunately, that has not stopped a few extremists and social media crazies from scaremongering. The so-called “antivaxxers” who claim that the vaccine is part of some secret plot by the New World Order to control us all. Somehow linked to 5G cell towers as well, apparently.
Or the uninformed, who claim, without evidence or any intelligence, that the vaccine will actually make us all sicker than the disease itself. Sadly, many of the people spouting those conspiracy theories don’t have what you do; a good enough education to understand basic science.
Not that you are virologists or microbiologists. Not yet, anyway. But you are learning enough to know the basics of how this vaccine will work. Scientists extract a small part of the structure of the COVID-19 virus, its RNA, and they inject it into us. The cells in our bodies then recognise something foreign. Not enough to make us sick, just enough to tolerate. And in tolerating the vaccine, we become stronger. Able to fight the nastiness of the full virus, should it come our way in the future.
Which is a perfect metaphor today. Because today, Monday 16th November, is the United Nations International Day For Tolerance. A day to remind ourselves of the need to foster mutual respect and understanding between all people. To learn to tolerate small differences, so that we can be strong enough to recognise and resist real threats when they appear.
The UN defines that tolerance as “respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world's cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human." Put simply, it is your ability to accept differing views which, although you may not agree with them, do not actually threaten you in any way. To respect people of other races, cultures, genders, religions or political persuasions. To recognise that just because something is foreign to you, it doesn’t mean that it will harm you.
And let’s be clear; being tolerant doesn’t mean accepting everything that other people do. It means learning to recognise that minor differences from your way of thinking aren’t threatening. Which allows you to spot truly offensive beliefs that really might do you harm, and to focus on fighting them.
When you get the COVID vaccine next year, as all of you should, the cells of your body will learn to accept something foreign. To adapt to something unfamiliar that they haven’t encountered before. As a result, you will be able to tolerate the vaccine. And that tolerance will ultimately protect you when something truly bad comes along.
So too with social tolerance. Learn to be accepting of people who are slightly different from you, and you immunise yourself from bigotry. By being tolerant of small discomforts, you strengthen yourself to be able to fight against genuine offence.
How might you do that? Well, that might be something that your Tutors may discuss with you in greater depth, as the International Day of Tolerance kicks off this new week.
Despite the ongoing restrictions, many of you are still achieving elite sporting success this term. Sadly, I can’t invite them up to be recognised today, but I would still like to congratulate:
As regional winners, golfers Lili-Rose Hunt, Tom Griffiths and James Humphries, all qualified for ISGA cup finals. A virtual version of the finals saw the Bromsgrove team finish 3rd, thanks to a round of 73 from Lili, and James who carded 69.
Well done also to Maddy McLeod and Izzy Eaton for being selected for the U19 Severn Stars Netball Squad, and extra credit to Izzy for being selected as a training partner in the National Superleague team.
During Half Term, Isaac Bridge and Katie Murray both took part in the England Hockey National Age Group selection days, with both making it through to phase two of selection.
And Josie Ward competed in the LTA National Tennis Tournaments over half term, making the last 16 in the U16s and the last 8 in the U14s. Congratulations to her as well.
As for our own local sports competitions, despite the wet and windy weather on Saturday, I was extremely impressed to see so many of you competing for your House with real spirit, across a wide variety of sports. A highlight for me was the L4th girls’ football, played with great enthusiasm and skill.
As for the week ahead, we will continue to defy the doom and gloom of this pandemic and find ways to continue with many of our usual Michaelmas activities. This Thursday the U6th have their University preparation evening, please contact Miss. Leech for further details.
Then the first event of the Senior House Drama Festival begins on Wednesday at 7pm with the Year 12 competition. Seven Houses are represented, all with very different plays. It promises to be a superb evening, as these competitions always are, and we look forward to Year 13 and Year 11 in competition later in the term. Mr Norton will send more details shortly.
Thank you also to those who have sent entries to Miss McCanlis for the Solo House Music Competition. Again, it is commendable to see lots of music-making still happening during despite the challenges. There is still time to send in your video recordings if you want to make a late entry. Please email them to Miss McCanlis no later than this.
Have another good week and remember that, whilst you shouldn’t get to close to others physically at present, there’s nothing to stop you being friendly, kind and tolerant of all who share the School with you.