School Closures…

I am aware of how much this subject is a bone of contention for so many people. I feel that we have been hugely let down by our government (again) because it didn’t act hard or fast. I feel this is a reason we are still in the situation we are in. However, I don’t have a magic wand to make it go away, so…if you’re one of the many people having to home school children I do realise that this is a situation we never expected ourselves to be in and can be extremely stressful and difficult, especially if you’re still working too.

I personally feel for all teachers and I have to admit that I really wouldn’t want to be a teacher right now. Remember that they are human beings too and largely due to government decisions (or lack of), they have been left not knowing what is going on or been told decisions at very short notice. Since the beginning of the pandemic teachers have had to teach in class and remotely. They’ve had to put themselves on the front line often without any PPE and without the possibility of social distancing. They’ve had to work staggered hours, longer hours and no doubt take on many roles other than educating children such as caring, nurturing, counselling, motivating to name a few. On top of all that (through no fault of their own), it’s likely that some of those children if not all have been impacted in one way or another by the pandemic which will have then taken its toll on them and in turn, possibly affecting their behaviour and or academic achievement at this incredibly bizarre time.

I could write so much about this topic.

I take my hat off to all the teachers and teaching assistants throughout this time and thank each and everyone of you.

And yet Ofsted’s Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman has the audacity to publicly claim that due to long periods of remote learning, younger children had regressed in basic skills and that some had forgotten how to hold a pencil or use a knife or fork and that there had been an increase in older children suffering with eating disorders and self-harming.

These comments made my blood boil.

Feeding straight into those parents’ mouths who already want to blame teachers for everything and who do not want to take any responsibility for the upbringing of their own children. I’d like to know how Ms Spielman knows this information and how she can claim that these very worrying things are purely down to remote learning.  Does Ms Spielman not feel that parents have any part to play in bringing up their own children? Does she feel that it is down to teachers to educate children in basic skills including how to hold a pencil or use a knife or fork? Is it ok if children are not writing, colouring or using a knife and fork at home? Is this really school’s fault?! I have images of children eating out of troughs when I think of them not using cutlery. I have worked in schools with children from deprived areas and know how bad their home lives can be and I truly hope that these children are still being checked up on by professionals. I have read about all the fantastic teachers going above and beyond their jobs to provide families with extra help and support including hand delivering food. As for older children suffering from eating disorders and self-harming as a consequence of remote learning….I can’t help but think of the bigger picture. Obviously, whatever the cause, this is very worrying and saddening, but could the cause of these issues be due to other issues not related to remote learning?

Could they in fact be down to a variety of factors including the broader impact of the pandemic? The fact that everyone’s lives have been turned upside down? That teenagers may not have been able to see their friends or family? That they may have missed being able to celebrate key milestones in their lives including birthdays, passing exams, finishing school, starting university? Not being able to find a job, go on holiday, go to the cinema, go on dates, have a first kiss, have sex….the list goes on. On top of all that, there will be children who have seen people being ill with COVID-19 and may have lost friends or family.

Yes, we are incredibly lucky to have the internet, which has been a godsend and now everyone knows Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype, like the back of their hand etc but they can’t replace real life experiences and the connection you have when you are with your friends and family. How many of those children will have missed out on hugs or being able to talk about how this has all impacted on them? Have we asked them? Do they have anyone to talk to about it? Everything we take for granted has been taken away from us and I don’t think any of us thought it would go on for this long. No one can tell us a date when life will return to normal or if indeed it will return to normal…that’s scary for an adult let alone a child or young person of any age.

I am training to be a counsellor and want to specialise in working with children and young people. The British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapy has been fighting to ensure that all schools have access to a counsellor but when this was taken to the government not long ago, it was dismissed with the government saying that they were providing the NHS with more money so people can access counselling this way. Don’t even get me started on this one. It’s hard for children and young people to access counselling services as it is and even if they are lucky enough to get offered counselling through IAPT or similar, they will be offered a limited number of sessions and then that’s it. In my opinion pupils have needed access to a counsellor through their school for a long time but now more than ever having gone through this pandemic, children’s mental health should be a priority, but it doesn’t feel as though the government agree.

Indeed, it feels that Ms Spielman’s answer is purely to get children back in school. Whilst of course this does have huge benefits, right now we have to look at the bigger picture and we all are desperate to get the virus under control. Not forgetting how children may also feel messed about as they have been in and out of school now for nearly a year and how some children may have anxiety about being in school now.

You may not agree with what I’m about to say but the other day I realised that in a way this pandemic is a bit like WW2 in terms of limitations on our life and the fact that a lot of children didn’t go to school. The reason I’m saying this is with a hope that despite all the frustrations and hardship, that you may be able to realise that those children from 80 years ago still went on to live their lives, work and flourish and that they will have gained a multitude of life skills through their experience of the war. I appreciate you can’t really compare the two, but this is a life experience and a chance to spend time with our children that we wouldn’t normally get, to establish new routines, new traditions etc.

So today I will leave you with this thought….

Whilst Hull was being bombed in WW2, my Grandad was a child, and he could see the bombs from his window. I asked him how he felt, watching the bombs and he said he remembered finding it exciting. So, whilst we may be pulling our hair out with worry, just remember that children maybe forming fond memories of this time, be it that they get cuddles with you in bed, that they get to eat tea with you, that you go for walks together or that last Christmas was the first time you got to eat what you really wanted whilst wearing your pyjamas!

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