Schools are approaching Christmas in many regions with year groups closing and reopening. How can parents manage?
There have been so many communications coming in from schools in our area in the last few weeks it has been almost a full time job keeping up. I have kids at three schools so that’s three times the emails and Covid is really rising in our area. The teachers sound increasingly jaded. One head teacher wrote an exasperated email on Tuesday to the effect that he knew lots of parents felt it was common sense to close the school, but that the decision was out of his hands and he wasn’t allowed to do what he felt was best for the children and the community.
I spoke to a friend in another region and she said she thought parents wouldn’t want schools to close because they would be too worried about childcare issues. People will, of course, have a different perspective based on their own personal experience and circumstances. Sometimes people will have conflicting perspectives. In our area some parents are already choosing to keep their children out of school, particularly if they have underlying health issues or plan to meet up with relatives at Christmas.
The childcare implications depend on everything from whether you can work from home to the age of your kids. An Ofsted report yesterday showed the extent to which some parents are choosing to home school their kids until the pandemic is over.
Meanwhile, some argue that closing the schools early will have a detrimental impact on children’s mental health and learning. Research backs up the mental health impact of weeks out of school, but it is just hours until the end of term and it could be argued that constant changes and alerts about Covid also have an impact on their mental health – as can worrying about having to take mock exams when your year group has been in and out for the last month or so. None of this pandemic stuff is good for anyone’s mental health or learning.
Then there is the impact on earnings and job security of having to take more time out to look after children if you can’t work from home. In a year of horrendous financial uncertainty, reductions in hours, closures, job precarity and school disruption, having to take more time off before Christmas to look after children piles even more pressure on parents.
So what are their rights? Parents can be furloughed if childcare is an issue, but it depends on whether their employer agrees to it. Our research shows more don’t than do. They can ask to work flexibly from home or be redeployed so they can continue to work. Again, their employer can turn this down. Parents can take annual leave if they have any left – and bear in mind many will be taking it to deal with Christmas anyway. They can take unpaid parental leave, but that is not an option many can afford. If their child has Covid symptoms and they are forced to self isolate and are on low wages they can get up to 500 pounds to cover the self isolation time. If they get Covid they can get Statutory Sick Pay, which is just £95.85. If, however, their child’s school is closed and their child doesn’t have Covid and the parents are well, they are left with unpaid parental leave.
A recent Women and Equalities Committee meeting heard from Jill Rubery, Professor of Comparative Employment Systems at the University of Manchester, who said the money for people who are forced to self isolate should be available to parents whose children are sent home from school and who cannot work as a result.
Certainly it doesn’t seem right to close schools early or to keep them closed until mid January if it causes incredible hardship for many parents. No parent should have to choose between reducing infection spread and eating.