Back to school?

Are schools going to re-open in the next few weeks – if only for some age groups? There are a lot of issues to weigh up and a lot of people to consider from children and their families to teachers and support staff.

education and school concept little student girl studying at school


The speculation about a return to school is hotting up, but details remain scarce. I have watched a whole heap of news this weekend and the general gist seems to be that any return to school will be phased, with possibly, in primary schools, year six going first.

The problem is it is with the earlier ages that parents are most struggling with working from home and homeschooling or childcare. You can, in most cases, put a 10 year old in front of a load of fractions, give them a few pointers and leave them to get on with it or tell them to go read a book. Younger children need more attention and supervision.

For secondary school students the opposite seems to be the case, at least in my experience. The older ones may know what they are doing, but finding the motivation to do it is a real struggle. At least they can generally be left alone to get on with life fairly safely – even if they don’t get out of bed – if parents have to go back to work outside the house. The same cannot be said of a four year old or younger. As usual, not many seem to be talking about nurseries…

There are, of course, so many different factors to take into account. The links between working and childcare is just one. There is parental anxiety about COVID-19 – who will send their children to school if they are not sure they will not get the virus – and potentially pass it on to others in the household [even if children are found to be less infectious – something we don’t yet know]; the concerns of teachers and support staff about their safety; the fact that hundreds of people are still dying daily in the UK; the worry that going back too soon means we may have to lock down again in the future; and so forth.

On the other hand, the furlough scheme runs out soon, with mass redundancies likely if people cannot go back to work imminently. Will it be extended, or extended for some industries where working from home is impossible; or tweaked so people can reduce their hours and furlough can make up the difference? How long can people mentally cope with the anxiety of no or reduced income and isolation? Reports suggest nearly a fifth of households with children are going hungry due to financial pressures and problems with emergency provision.

Then there are the long-term issues: children getting behind because they are unable to study at home due to lack of computer access, lack of internet access, lack of space, lack of support, mental health concerns and many other issues. Parents unable to work from home due to similar problems.

We’ve seen how the virus has hit the poorest areas worst. The long-term effects will be most profound for the poor too. On top of that comes continuing uncertainty linked to automation, other potential natural events and other potential manmade events, such as a no-deal Brexit – all of them, again, likely to affect the poor the most.

In the rush to return to work, we need to have a sense of a longer term strategy about what we are trying to achieve through education and work, and what the general aims of society are.

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