Schools in England go back this week and there are a lot of mixed emotions, particularly for those in the exam years.
So it’s the big return to school in England this week and for many parents it will be greeted with a mix of emotions, but probably mainly relief. In our house there are three different schools to return to, which means three different lots of guidance on protocols, signing of forms, check-up calls from schools, etc. Keeping across all this stuff while homeschooling and working is not something I will miss.
Only son celebrated the end of homeschool on Friday by, for the first time ever, doing all his English and maths by himself in the morning [I had back to back calls and a pounding headache]. He closed his computer in the afternoon after a last session of science [creating a solar system map], recording the position of the moon on his moon chart [impossible in the last few days due to fog] and learning about the lead-up to Easter in religious studies. He is probably the most upbeat of the three kids about the return to school even though he normally hates school, has found out his best friend is moving and is worried that he has ‘fallen behind’ – something I think he has picked up from all the news reports and his sisters. He’s done all the work set so there’s no reason he will be any more behind than anyone else, I told him. He also has preparations for secondary school coming up this term so that’s a cause of excitement… and nervousness.
For his sisters, emotions veer wildly. Daughter two, who is in upper sixth, is desperate to see her friends, but has been spitting feathers at a school email sent earlier in the week with an exam timetable. “What is the point of cancelling the A Levels if you are only going to give us two lots of exams in the exact same conditions after a year of virtually no teaching?” she asked. She has exams in all subjects in April and then again in May. I explained that it was to give the teachers some data on which to base the assessment and that doing two lots gave her two shots, but she was outraged. Why did they need to do it in A Level exam conditions?
She asked me to petition the school. She threatened not to go. She said it was child abuse, that it showed schools don’t care about students’ mental health whatever they say and said that it would make her “last days of school a living Hell”. Daughter two is very dramatic, but she has a point because in September when she went back there were also tests and she had several panic attacks and couldn’t even get into the exam hall. It’s a year since her sister died, but during lockdown we have had to relive that whole period all over again. It’s been nearly impossible for the kids, but they have tried to keep going. I just want them to get to the end of this year and be relatively ok. Daughter two refuses point blank to repeat the year. She wants to escape. Who can blame her? The chances are that the last year of homeschooling while grieving and the current focus on testing will put her off education for life.
Daughter three is similarly anxious. She has tests from the first lesson back on Wednesday, although the tests are in the classroom and they’ve called them ‘remote learning check-ups’. No amount of branding is fooling anyone though. She knows these tests – and all the others coming up – count. She just wants to get to sixth form, but she has to get a 6 in a subject which she has developed a mental block about. She too absolutely refuses to do another year in the school she is currently in. Hopefully, the sixth form will take all of what has gone on in the last year into account, but so many other children will have gone through terrible things. It’s impossible to know and the uncertainty is the thing that is most damaging. She too recalls her mind going completely blank during back to school tests last year due to a paralysing sense of fear. They need time to resettle, but time is not on their side.
Both girls have got their masks ready and they know how to do the Covid tests. They’re not worried about them at all – except for people watching them doing them. There’s a light nervousness on our part that they – and we – won’t be able to get up. 7am seems really, really early when we’ve been rolling out of bed and onto our laptops at 8ish and not waking up the teens [unless they have an ‘early’ lesson] til 9.30. Our whole day has been inverted in the last months. We haven’t been doing the school run since November when daughter two got Covid. Next weekend will be well needed recovery time.
I can’t say I was a very good homeschool overseer. My job involves interviews and meetings so I was continuously telling only son to wait a minute. He wrote some amazing things, though, and I was hugely impressed. My role with the girls has mostly been waking them up and motivational coach. I know they have been more or less keeping up which is remarkable, considering. We’ve all been in this huge bubble of family-ness, reliving endlessly all the films and songs and interests of daughter one, keeping her with us. It has been hard doing it alone, but now we have to open back up again and pop the bubble. When people lose someone close to them, they say they want to stop the world. The world has absolutely stopped since our daughter died. I know it can’t stop for ever and I don’t want it to, but I flip flop between an exhausting whirlwind of different emotions all the time as I am sure everyone in the family does. All you can do is take one step at a time and remember to breathe.