Covid: Why Scotland's kids should be allowed to experience the joy of nativity despite virus – Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP

I have never been in a nativity play. I was cast as the king (or wise man) Balthazar in P1, but instead of bringing myrrh to baby Jesus in the dress rehearsal, I brought a viral load of chickenpox and took out half the class. There was no nativity at our school that year.
Alex Cole-Hamilton was cast in a school nativity play, but a bout of chickenpox forced its cancellationAlex Cole-Hamilton was cast in a school nativity play, but a bout of chickenpox forced its cancellation
Alex Cole-Hamilton was cast in a school nativity play, but a bout of chickenpox forced its cancellation

It looks like there won’t be a nativity for anyone this Christmas. As Covid continues its remorseless erosion of normal life, some of the trade-offs of having children back at school full time are beginning to bite. Secondary students wear Covid masks all day and for the little ones, it means no singing. That’s really sad, and what’s more – I’m not sure the government has got this one right.

Singing in nurseries and in the reception years of primary school is about so much more than how many monkeys there are jumping on a particular bed or London’s need for the fire brigade. It’s a recognised and fundamental tool of early development.

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Nursery teachers and those educating pupils with additional support needs use ‘song-signifiers’ to guide children through the structure of the day. Songs can distract upset children, refocus rowdy classes and sooth those struggling with trauma.

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The Covid Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children suggests there is an increased risk of viral transmission associated with music and drama activities. It has concluded singing should not happen indoors as an organised, large-group activity.

They do concede that children sing naturally in the course of the day and should not be discouraged from this (although I understand from teacher friends this concession is an update and that earlier they were expected to stop all spontaneous singing).

I’m not saying there isn’t a risk, children get and pass on Covid, I understand that. But I have asked the government many times about the safety of school environments for children and teachers who had been shielding. I’m repeatedly assured that both groups are safe to stay at school because our understanding of the virus has changed.

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Back in March, we thought that kids were the vector for transmission – like they are with flu. That closing and re-opening the schools was like a tap to regulate the flow of virus through the community to allow our health care infrastructure to cope.

Now it seems that kids just don’t carry this bug in the way that grown-ups do. It just doesn’t seem to take up residency in them and as such they don’t really pass it on.

This is the reassurance offered to me about those shielding groups. OK. So, what’s with the singing ban? I can’t believe that kids will go from low-risk to super-spreader in the course of a few verses about a turtle who eats a bar of soap.

This is about government drawing a line to say: “this much risk and no further”. I don’t envy their task but, on this, I’d ask them to think again. This winter will be dark enough and in singing there is hope. So, let them fill the air with song. A virus ruined my school’s Christmas in 1981, but it needn’t stop the joy of nativity for the whole of Scotland this year.

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Alex Cole-Hamilton is the Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh Western

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