Schools going back is not the end of the additional stresses put on parents during Covid.
Schools are back all over the UK now so parents should be feeling more relaxed, right? While the strains of working while simultaneously teaching algebra are now [hopefully] behind most of us, the Covid pandemic continues to present significant parenting challenges.
First is the patchy return of wraparound care and the lack of informal care options, which should ease in time, new variants permitting. Next is nervous exhausation from just getting through the last months.
And then comes dealing with anxiety – parents’ own and their children’s. When it comes to children, that may be Coivd-related anxiety about the return to school [I know several kids at our primary school are not back fully because the last months have made them extremely anxious, particularly if they or relatives have been shielding or have lost relatives to the virus, in just the same way that we are receiving emails from parents who are incredibly anxious about going back to work].
It may, however, also be anxiety about school itself. I have kids in both the GCSE and A Level year. They have gone back to what seems like round-the-clock testing, all of which they know is going to contribute to their assessed grade. One of them – the GCSE one – had tests from the first week back before the holidays and seems to have them in almost every other lesson, but at least they are in the classroom and there is an attempt to play them down a bit. The other had the Easter holidays and then went straight into full exam hall, outside invigilator mocks. This will be followed by a short break of around three weeks when she will get some actual teaching after months of learning online on her bed and then she will have to do mocks all over again.
As it is, I know that several kids are not turning up for the exams and some are having panic attacks and having to do exams from home or defer them. UK kids are the most tested in the world and also among the most unhappy. We talk a lot about social media and its impact on young people’s mental health, but our school system must share some of the blame.
What is the point of going on about the ‘tsunami of mental health issues’ facing young people and then piling on the pressure the minute they are back in school [after spending every single year since Year 7 telling them that their lives are effectively over if they don’t hit their GCSE ‘targets’]? It makes no sense at all. Do schools [and policymakers] think that by doing this they are preparing kids for ‘the real world’? And if so what kind of ‘real world’ are we talking about? Not an empathetic one it would seem. Maybe one more based on a corporate model, given that all the targets and interim reports they foist on young people sometimes make you feel that they see them more as some sort of corporate entity than a person. In any event, the corporate world is all about being authentic these days. Education is way behind the curve.
I know teachers need evidence on which to base their assessments and that many disagree with the constant testing, but there are a lot of different approaches available to get that evidence that don’t involve full-blown exams and indeed not all schools are interpreting the guidance in the same way. But sometimes it feels as if it would have been less pressure to actually let them sit the A Levels and GCSEs, adjusted to reflect what they have been through.
Who picks up the tab for this? Parents. Parents are the ones talking young people through their worries, helping plan revision, trying to ensure they get enough sleep, getting them counselling if they need it, worrying about them… Parents are the ones talking to their teachers, telling them about the panic attacks, trying to find ways to lessen the panic attacks, trying to motivate them when they have lost all sense of the point of education [any sense of the joy of learning having gone out the window back in 2020]…
I know my kids are facing particular difficulties, having lost their sister last year, but grief has been all-pervasive this last year and many families have been touched by it or by horrendous financial problems or other terrible circumstances. There has to be some recognition of this, some outlet for it all.
The impact of Covid-19 on children is just beginning and parents need to pace themselves for the long haul and look after themselves and each other.