At the end of March this year, many children, with the exception of those with key worker parents, began a different way of learning with their education provision being at home.

Parents were suddenly thrust into the role of teachers, or at the very least education supervisors, suddenly having to split their time and their workspaces to accommodate classroom activities.   Some schools looked to find a way round distance learning, whilst others struggled with this, and many parents were left to lesson plan, source material, and teach the lesson.  Whilst some enjoyed spending time with their children, for others this was not so easy.

The government have been pushing for some time for the country to return to normality as soon as feasible, and get people back into work for the sake of the economy, but for many parents, and for many teachers, this was a decision which seemed to have been made without thinking through the implications as to how schools were going to conform with all the safety measures which needed to be in place and adhered to.

The results of the poll conducted by Lytham St Anne’s News, on their Facebook page showed an overwhelming majority of parents taking the decision not to send their children back to school as yet.  583 people voted, with 74% against, and 26% wanting a return to school for their children.

So what were some of the reasons and concerns behind why people voted the way they did?

The main concern for the majority was one of how safe the school environment would be. Many worry about the government’s decision, whether they have been honest all along when reporting scientific evidence, not wanting their children to be used as pawns in another scientific experiment.  We are told that Coronavirus poses no risks to school age children, and yet we hear reports of deaths, albeit only a few.  What happens when all the children return to school and the virus spreads to children who have underlying conditions, e.g. asthma.

Just how realistic is it for schools to implement and adhere to social distancing measures?  Keeping children at a 2m distance, or even 1m distance is great in theory, but the reality of this will in fact be a very different story.  Children, especially little ones, are generally moist, and frequently have runny noses, wet pants or tears running down their faces.   They put things in their mouths constantly from play bricks, to pencils, to their own thumbs… with the latter two still being in the mouths of children right up to the final years in primary, and beyond.  Given that schools can’t control coughs, colds, sickness bugs, chickenpox, or even worms and nits, then the evidence does suggest that they are extremely unlikely to be able to control coronavirus.

Say the child returns to school on a rota basis, as is suggested, with staggered starts, breaks, lunches and pickups, temperature tested on arrival, with a dozen children in the classroom, taught in a small group, or bubble as it will be known, possibly not with their friends, possibly not by their teacher, possibly not in their classroom, not being allowed to run around, but having to stand in marked spaces so that social distancing measures are in place, frighteningly having to be taught by teachers who are wearing PPE.  None of these measures are convincing many parents that this is the best learning environment for their child, and indeed some feeling that going back to this environment would be traumatic for their child, and although not all, but certainly for some, their learning environment is far better at home, learning with their parents, and online, and away from the distractions and disruptions unavoidable in a class of 30+.   Having to adhere to strict social distancing and hygiene practices would take up an enormous amount of the teacher’s time, and there would be more mothering and babysitting going on than teaching it seems.

Some who voted against worry that the reasons for children being in school have changed. Initially, the reason given for school closures was that this would control the spread of the virus, not because of the risk to the health of children.  Suddenly, we’re told that children should go back to schools because there is no risk to their health, with no mention of controlling virus spread.  Are we to conclude that the government again want the virus to spread wildly, and are again wanting people to catch it to help with herd immunity? Given that the children of key workers have remained in school throughout lockdown, and it is they who are more likely to be exposed to, and therefore carry this virus, even if they have no visible symptoms, it is they who may then pass the virus to other children, which in turn puts parents at risk of passing this to the elderly and vulnerable in families and communities.  The government did say at the outset that they would try and control the spread of the virus so that many healthy people caught it, and would fight it without becoming too ill and in turn provide a herd immunity for the more vulnerable in our communities.  Of course, there would be some who did become very ill, but as long as the hospitals weren’t overwhelmed then the government were comfortable with the spread.  Thus so, we were put into lockdown to slow the spread, and now we are to send the children back to school to increase spread again.   Indeed, some key workers have been so worried that they would pass the virus to their child or children that they have moved into separate living accommodation or isolated themselves within their own home, some even refusing to send their children to school, and struggled through with their shifts, parenting and home educating.

Some parents voted for a return to school for their children because they were finding it too difficult to work from home, and supervising their child’s education.  Some are fitting in work with flexible hours, and working after the school day and in the evening.  Employers have become more tolerant of flexible hours, and indeed background noise as many of us are working in a home environment.  Being unable to educate children of different ages, or unable to supervise little ones who are unable to occupy or entertain themselves, unlike older children, whilst juggling work shifts has been difficult, non-existent and heart-breaking for some.

Some thought the education offered at home was better, with 1:1 bespoke lessons targeted according to interest and ability, with a variety of topics covered, and with more work done given there are no time wasting of explanations, disruptions, behaviour issues, assemblies etc. and going as far as saying they thought online learning was the future.

Others have adopted a less formal and academic approach to learning with the days filled with enrichment activities for their children such as baking, gardening, practical tasks, games, conversations, art, music and literature, and some parents offering both academic and non-academic lessons at home.

There is argument that if children return for the final term of the school year, that not much work will be happening, as the lessons in the weeks approaching the summer holidays are generally wound down and consist of more fun activities, crafts and even film watching, so children may as well be at home.

Education experts say that the gap has widened significantly between those children who have had access to online learning and/or education delivered by parents, and those children who are less fortunate, who do not have the technology to access online learning, who have not had an ideal home environment to enable them to learn with too many distractions, or where little importance has been placed on formal education.  Those children who have thrived at home, where parents have put an enormous amount of time and effort into home schooling, are racing away from those children who haven’t received this education.   Those vulnerable children who haven’t been learning, are the ones who need to be in school; these children should be the ones returning to school first.

Missing their friends is another reason some say for sending their children back to school.   Small children really miss, and need that social interaction in order to learn behaviour, communication, conversation and empathy.   But given that if they were to return to school, they would be kept away from other children, this would inhibit their freedom to communicate in a natural way for children.  Older children, will be fine in the long term and have used technology for keeping in touch with friends; they may be missing face to face friendships, but certainly haven’t lacked in communicating with each other.  Some children have struggled at home, really missing social interaction with their peers, and in some instances this has caused much distress and impacted mental wellbeing.

 

 

How long do we need to be social distancing for is the question nobody has a definitive answer to.  At some point things do need to return to normal whatever the consequences, but then what happens if there’s a second spike? What happens if the second spike is greater than the first?  What happens if cases escalate again in autumn or winter?  Do we all go back into lockdown?  Or do we then all have to come face to face with the virus, every one of us, some coping well, some not so well, some becoming critically ill and hospitalised, some of us not surviving.  ‘So be it’ seems to be the attitude, this is how it is: we face it now, or we face it later.

There have been mixed messages all along, and it isn’t any wonder that people don’t know what to do, or who to believe.  We are told to stay at home, then we’re told to return to normality, and now the decision falls to each and every one of us to do what we feel is right for us.  Teachers telling us that we’re doing a good job and don’t worry about academia in the time we’re isolating at home, keeping safe being the priority, and then the government and education experts tell us how important it is to be learning, and how much children are falling behind.  Many teachers fear the return of the children to the classroom, schools varying so much in layout, dynamics and management, and therefore not all can follow a governmental standard safety procedure. Teachers now fear that they will be under pressure to return to teaching, and be forced to face many children returning to school, and they are relying on the unions to fight against this.  Some parents are adhering to the guidelines and staying safe at home, whilst others are out and about in parks and on the beach.

Is the fact of the matter that people are now a little fed up with social distancing, are they feeling broken, lonely and close to the edge.  Have we all just had enough of lockdown, the kids, not eating out, no holidays or travelling?  Whilst the majority of people have been almost slave-like in obediently adhering to the rules, others have taken the view that they need their freedom to be out and about in parks and on the beach.  Deaths are still occurring in vast numbers, and we haven’t really seen any tangible change resulting from our long term behaviour, so how long do we listen to our experts conveying their take on sense and reason?  With the amount of conflicting news circulating, and no clear guidelines, it is no wonder our heads are spinning, and as such our nation is dividing in their beliefs in the best way to move forward.

It is true that normality is desired, with money being the driving force.  The economy is in a mess, with a deficit of tax revenue which will take years to recover from.  Is it right that this is now more important than lives in that great decision making.  The truth is we don’t know what we are dealing with, we don’t know how the virus will move, change or spread in the future, and although we’re being encouraged to resume normality (albeit with caution), the decisions regarding distancing, working and schooling lie with us, to make, and to live with the consequences of our actions.

If it isn’t ok to go into pubs, cinemas, hairdressers then why is it ok for our children to return En-masse to schools?  Again, get the children back who are vulnerable, or are suffering, and leave those children who are thriving, and that way numbers can be kept down in schools.  If it isn’t safe for the government to re-convene, then there is definitely a case for arguing against whole school reunions.

Elizabeth Dee