The sickie is a skill most of us learned when we were primary kids. Telegraph it the day before, cough a few times before bed. If you’re into Jeremy Strong levels of method acting you could attempt shivering, and you would definitely get some Panadol.
Now the trick of the perfect sickie is to remember your plan from the night before as soon as you wake up. Cough as your eyes open, otherwise before you know it you’re downstairs scoffing cereal when you remember, at which point you’re already in your school uniform and there’s no point going back into character. The audience will see right through it.
So you get to school. Just after recess, you decide 90 minutes of maths isn’t going to cut the mustard and you go to the school office and put in an Oscar-worthy performance of the night before’s illness with some contextual flourishes – at your cousin’s birthday, Aunt Beryl was coughing, or maybe you forgot to pack a jumper for the movies. We all know that it is a sure fire way to catch a cold.
Back in the day, the school nurse could see through the real and the fake, and would even delay calling your parents until just before lunch, at which point the opportunity to play with friends again could make you feel better all of a sudden. When they did believe you, you would be collected and depending on how generous your parents were feeling it was TV all afternoon or my mother’s line that still haunts me (and fills me with guilt even when I am actually sick): “If you’ you’re well enough to watch TV, you’re well enough to go to school.”
Now however, the sickie doesn’t even require any skill, let alone strategy. You just say you have a sore throat and you’re either not going to school, or you’re being collected as soon as possible. I’m a single mother and a teacher, so half the week I’m ‘it’ for the COVID call. Everyone is rightly scared of a COVID outbreak, whether it’s at my work-school or my kid-school, we all do the right thing.
So this week, I did another (actually sick) kid collection half way through the day, and for the price of having a nasal swab, they got a day at home watching tv, and I was off work, again, figuring out what on earth it looks like if they’ve got COVID again. They were negative, and they were back at school a day and a half later.
I don’t know how long we can go through life with a zero tolerance policy for any symptoms, and families won’t be able to afford to test their snotty-from-May-till-September kids on a daily basis. This year our cold and flu season has been really bad for younger children because kids haven’t developed immunity in the past two years with lockdowns and social distancing.
Student absences are higher than they ever have been because of COVID, isolation, covid like symptoms as well as the rest of the reasons kids have days off school – dentist appointments, tummy bugs, travel. Absences have an impact on learning as well as socialisation. Professor Pasi Sahlberg wrote about how, in the scheme of things, COVID lockdowns weren’t that long, but what if every term each student gets COVID or similar symptoms and misses out on a week of school? That’s 10 per cent less school than previous generations. Surely that has to add up. (Caveat: I am not a math teacher.)