OPINION
25/01/2021 15:26 GMT | Updated 25/01/2021 15:44 GMT

It’s Time For The Honest Truth About School Closures

If homeschooling is going to continue until after Easter, parents need to know now, writes Lauren Crosby Medlicott.

“When you know better you do better,” Maya Angelou once said. The idea is that the more knowledge we have, the better we do. 

That’s something that, right now, parents, social workers, and teachers would no doubt agree with.

We’ve been totally left in the dark on the plans for schools reopening, which simply means we can’t do our best to take care of our children.

After Christmas, we were told it would be a couple weeks of home learning. Everyone assembled and created a temporary survival plan to juggle the demands of working, parenting and homeschooling during lockdown.

But those couple of weeks ended, and then we were informed that schools would remain closed until the end of January. Then the end of half term.

Parents, social workers, and teachers want the best for children. But they cannot give them the best when they have no definitive timeline to work with.

Given the high number of Covid deaths, it’s understandable that schools needed to close and must remained closed. But the lack of definitive leadership from government is making an already chaotic, unnatural situation worse.

Parents are scrambling for concrete solutions to take care of their children on a week-to-week basis. They see no point in making structured routines or planning with their employers for how to fit in expected work loads with home-schooling children when we don’t know how long this will go on for.

Each week that the school openings are delayed makes it harder for parents to cope, both practically and mentally. If parents were given a realistic, informed timeline of when schools would return to normal, they could prepare by structuring their days, finding creative ways to incorporate work and schooling, and gearing up mentally for a longer stint of trying to juggle it all.

Social workers, while not having received much attention during lockdowns, are fighting furiously for the wellbeing of the children they support. One social worker said: “We are dealing with this now and when it is long past crisis in the NHS we will still be dealing with it and it won’t be mentioned then because some of the things we have to do aren’t things the public want to hear about. We save lives in a very different way to the NHS.”

In normal times, social workers liaise with schools and other support services to protect vulnerable children, acting as a team. During lockdown, most of the universal support for families with vulnerable children has dropped away, leaving social workers with the primary responsibility of safeguarding and supporting vulnerable children – those with disabilities or with families struggling with addiction, abuse, or mental health issues.

If social workers were told that schools and other support systems for children would be closed until at least after Easter, they could request funding for technology for families without it so that they can remotely support and protect children through months of lockdown.

Children in the foster care system could be offered alternative opportunities for contact with their biological family. Proper PPE could be distributed for home visits to check up on families.

It’s vital that social workers know how long schools will be closed so that they can plan for how to protect children in our society that are at risk of harm, and families who need extra support in caring for children with disabilities.

Teachers are at the forefront of the battleground during school closures. Most teachers understand that schools must remain shut for the time being. They see the high rates of Covid infections, like everyone else. They know how stretched the NHS is. But they also find the lack of clarity around the return to school debilitating, frustrating, and demeaning.

How are they meant to create high quality resources for remote learning, including assessment materials, when they are also simultaneously preparing for the possibility of face-to-face teaching? How can they advocate for more technology for students when they aren’t sure of whether or not it is needed? How can they protect children whose welfare they are concerned for without proper PPE and permission from authorities? Teachers need an agenda for returning to school so they can stop wasting their time preparing for anything other than remote learning and protection of children in vulnerable positions.

Parents, social workers, and teachers want the best for children. But they cannot give them the best when they have no definitive timeline to work with.

This government has dragged its feet and twiddled its thumbs about telling those most involved in the care of children when schools will close and open, leaving everyone mentally exhausted and inadequately prepared. If schools are going to be closed until after Easter, it is time for the government to stop delaying the inevitable and make the decision that could help everyone do better.

Lauren Crosby Medlicott is a freelance journalist.