Even before it was clear that we were heading inside the eye of the storm, in this pandemic, the call to close down all schools, were being sung in unison from all across the public and the media. Like it were a solution to everything going on and a means to an end, to this predicament. Children were identified as carriers, super spreaders as some called them and since, thankfully, they seemed to be less effected by Covid 19. Confining them to their homes to save the older and vulnerable generation was needed.
Working in the education sector and being a father of two children who are in primary school. I waited patiently, reading, watching and listening to the news every day, on the latest strategies and if there was a need, to close at all. Like most working parents, it was a catch 22 situation. We all knew what the impact of a school closure would mean for us, at the same time, we needed to consider how safe were our kids and the wider society with the virus spreading as fast it was. A big part of me wanted the government to push the whole closure until after the Easter Holidays, to give us time to prepare and minimise impact on the children’s learning. But as numbers started to rise around the country, staff/teachers starting to self isolate with worried parents keeping their children at home and more bad news came out of Italy and Spain. The ever loud vocals became even louder, leading the government to cave in and order schools and colleges across the UK to close indefinitely. You could almost hear the big sigh of relief from the public and the media. But what was even more damning, was all up and coming exams were cancelled too. Meaning no pupils will be taking their SATS, GCSEs or A- levels this year. Sounds like a dream for students, right?
When the news started sinking in the next morning, we were left to confront the magnitude of what was announced. Our children/s would have to be at home for a potential of five months and unlike other holidays, they would have no choice but to be entertained inside the four walls of our own homes. Going out to the parks, a trip abroad or even a domestic getaway was not an option. Very quickly, it dawned on us, our lives were about to change drastically for the foreseeable future, that we as parents would also have to take on the responsibility of being teachers. Those of us who could, couldn’t even send them to their grandparents, aunts or even friends, in the risk of them passing on or picking up the virus, we had to be with them 24/7. It seemed like a perfect case of, be careful of what you wish for. All of a sudden the romantic notion of closing down schools, wasn’t that romantic after all.
Working in education for nearly my whole career, a very small part of me was a little happy. For years, I had to sit and endure, listening to a growing number of people unfairly criticise and pass their outdated views about our education system and schools. Blaming teachers, head teachers, TAs, pastoral staff and even the whiteboard for the under attainment of their children. Pretty much, passing on the blame to everything instead of accepting their part to play in the equation. I gritted my teeth, when people and families who made no effort in keeping themselves up to date with modern times or education, started smear campaigns against the system. Accusing the education system of absurd and ill formed rumours, such as how they were conspiring to teach five years old to be gay or lesbian, influencing them to change their genders and showing porn in classrooms. Trying to plead with parents to stop them from taking their child out of education in the middle of the term, only to have a cheap holiday abroad, refusing to accept or resùpect the system enough to know why that would be a bad idea. It seemed, schools and teachers had become punching bags and looked upon as system that was invading people’s free will, by some parents and the wider society. With no regards, sensitivity or appreciation, of how much schools actually do for the wellbeing and welfare of a child. The small part of me was hoping in this time of lockdown, parents will see the impact of teachers and learn to appreciate a sector we sometimes take for granted. They can finally understand, that the full potential of a child in their learning, behaviour and mental health is a collective responsibility and effort from both families and schools, and not just the schools alone. Maybe this isolation would be a perfect time to reflect the deep impact of our teachers and schools.
But a major part of me found it difficult to process the whole thing. Last Friday, as both my kids got up in the morning getting ready for their final day at school, I was greeted with a look of confusion from their small faces. It wasn’t the cheerful face filled with excitement they usually have, the morning before a big holiday. Their faces were anything but jubilant. All I saw were two faces of uncertainty and sadness, looking for answers, I could not provide. Getting ready to say goodbye to their teachers and friends, much sooner than they anticipated and for a reason they had not quite grasped. No idea, if they will be taught by their current teachers again. Amongst the crowd as I walked to work, were year 6 pupils, faced with the prospect of saying goodbye to their primary schools without the proper send off we all know year 6 students are used to getting. Year 11 pupils, with their emotions quite clear, as they walked their last day to school. Not having the opportunity to complete their GCSEs they worked and prepared so hard for.
As the day went on, I heard stories of children crying, distraught and upset in the hallways and toilets of their schools. Writing notes to their favourite staff members, telling them how much they will miss them and how much they meant. This was not how it was supposed to be, our children, your children, were not meant to say goodbye like this.
And the teachers, who dedicated their time and effort to teach these children with sheer stubbornness and will. Did they have smiles on their faces for being closed early for the year? No, every teacher from the ones in my children’s school, along with my two cousins (teachers), who I have been chatting to every day, were anxious, upset and broken with one question on their minds- what will happen to their pupils? We forget, how much school staff and teachers love, care and want nothing but the best for their pupils. They pride themselves when their pupils do good, it gives their work value and a sense of reward and their pupils pain is theirs to share too. Maybe in this time of isolation we can spare a thought for all the teachers, staff and head teachers that cried, upon hearing the news of their school closing, who felt the heartbreak of the pupils who could not take the exams they have prepared so diligently for. The pupils they won’t see again, the pupils they taught, laughed, joked and believed in. The ones, that didn’t think twice to volunteer themselves and cancel their holidays, to help out at this time of great crisis.
Just for the record, schools are not closed. They are more open now, than ever. The children of key workers are not the only ones attending schools. The children that are considered, the most vulnerable in our society, those with special educational needs or under child protection, for whom being at school is considered a better place for them to be, than being at home, are also in schools being looked after and cared for by teachers and staff who had volunteered to stay. There are no Easter holidays, no half term and maybe not even summer holidays. Staff members have taken on this responsibility, for the nation and for their pupils. These are staff making calls at home to check on the wellbeing of children, ensuring those children who are entitled to free school meals are getting their meals, making packs at school for parents to pick up, Those who are at home, are still working virtually to help the kids at home through their devices . Schools are far from closed, they are carrying on doing what they have always been doing, looking after the wellbeing of our children and giving them the education they deserve.
Having worked in education all my life, in recent years, I have seen a devastating trend of schools being blamed for every aspect of a child. They seem like an easy target for everyone to throw bottles at, when talking about society. They are expected to be social workers, behaviour therapists and parents, everything but their main roles of educators. Teachers start their day at 7am and finish at 6pm, following ridiculous standards, set by the government. They are overworked and underpaid. In this time of home schooling our children, we can understand the great responsibility they have and the amount of work they put in. They are key workers too, just like all part of our great public services, they play an important role in the fabric of our society and one of the pillars of our infrastructure. We don’t want another crisis to happen to see them as heroes, just like it took us this crisis to see how important the NHS and their worker are. Let’s learn to appreciate and support them now, just like we are doing with everything else. Let’s take this chance to look within ourselves and realise, that educating a child is a collective effort.
Give every school staff who worked with your child, a gesture of recognition, it can be something simple as a thank you. Listen and understand your children and accept their ability and let them grow in their own pace, it is not just one person’s responsibility, it’s equally all of ours.