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Pubs or Schools?

Playing devil’s advocate

Last year, when deadly pandemics in the West were kept in the history books, choosing between business and education would have been laughable. In fact, the difference between the two is not stark, with schools and universities alike seeking internships and other connections in the business world to season their students with advantages and experience while our educational years extend further than before. Unfortunately, in little more than a blink of the eye the world shuddered and halted, sullied by a novel virus, slowing students and frustrating offline businesses virtually everywhere. In Britain, local lockdowns have been threatened, implemented and part of a climate of difficult decisions, leading us to think on one that may have to be made in the near future: private or public sector? Pubs or schools?

It is not an easy choice. Schools have been mostly closed since March, a considerable amount of time to September and nearly the whole year if schools close around Michaelmas until the end of the year. Both academic and social skills of children have possibly been compromised and some parents cannot afford to not send their children to school (although many have also said they do not want their children to return to school yet). On the other hand, the vast majority of schools are state schools – about 90% of schoolchildren in England and Wales go to state schools, and what pays for these? A healthy economy is fundamentally important for the health of the... to go for a Marxist word, ‘superstructure’. Besides, businesses and jobs are at stake. Those employed in pubs and restaurants need their businesses to run to be sure of employment while teachers can be off work for an indefinite period of time.

Although a Conservative Prime Minister, Boris Johnson is on the side of schools, declaring that they would be the last to close out of schools, pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops; according to Downing Street, schools will be the ‘absolute last’ to close in the event of a local lockdown. Unsurprisingly, this has the support of those working in education and with young persons, although some remain concerned about the level of preparedness for testing pupils and maintaining distancing in schools. The Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield argues that schools should be the ‘first to open and last to close’ and that businesses should be sacrificed for schools.

It might be easy for Ms Longfield to argue so, as it often is for those who demand a longer lockdown when they do not work in business themselves. We should hear more from the businesses about the Prime Minister’s plans and ‘moral duty’ to keep schools open even at the expense of business. Until we do, I think it is only right for me to play ‘devil’s advocate’ and argue that the state should leave businesses alone and allow people to make their own choices and risks. I am also not sure how much children care being off school, nor am I convinced that parents cannot do more to teach them at home and encourage a more active social life.

The furlough scheme ends in October and we should prioritise the economy, which is so important for everything else. Of course we can afford to close schools, but shops and pubs will make less money if their doors are shut. Finally, we should not be saying we will not prioritise business while singing ‘eat out to help out’.

Devil’s advocate: Pubs before schools. 

Jack Margetson