Parents are fuming over the government’s U-turn to close schools – just one day after primary school children mixed with dozens of other pupils.
Many are worried about the repercussions this will have on the wellbeing of their children, not to mention the health of their families, while others are struggling for childcare because they don’t want to put grandparents at risk.
Debbie Straughton, 39, from Manchester, was reluctant to send her children, aged eight and 11, back to school on January 4, but did so because she didn’t want them missing out on education. She was also worried they’d get an unauthorised absence mark.
“We have not seen family or friends over Christmas due to the risk – and now our children have gone back to school and mixed with around 60 other children for the sake of one day,” she tells HuffPost UK.
“This is confusing for them, telling them yesterday it was safe for them to go to school and then suddenly it isn’t anymore.”
Straughton is frustrated the decision to close schools was only made yesterday, after public health experts had been calling for it to happen for some time.
“The decision could have been made earlier, giving us time to prepare our children for home learning and time for the teachers to prepare also to switch,” she says. “Instead, we’ve had to break the news to them last minute, causing upset and also dash to set up our home again to allow us to help them with their work, while we also both try to work from home.”
She adds: “My son took one of his favourite books to school yesterday that he’d gotten for his birthday at Christmas so he could share his recommendation with his class and was so upset last night that he’d left it in school – now he won’t be able to read it. A small thing but something that was important to him.”
“The decision could have been made earlier, giving us time to prepare our children for home learning.”
Darren Fleming, 52, from Wakefield, has two children aged 14 and six. His eldest wasn’t due to go back to school this week, but his six-year-old son was. Even though he felt opening the school was the wrong decision, Fleming allowed his son to return as he missed school and his friends. “We felt it would benefit him,” he says.
The school closed after one day. “It’s extremely annoying,” says Fleming, adding that’d he’d considered not sending his son back due to the current risks. “It seems unnecessary to expose the kids at our school and many others for a few hours education,” adds Fleming.
“From what we’ve read, our understanding is kids can still pass the virus even if they don’t get ill with it. Our worry was that he would bring the virus home and we could be ill and also at risk of inadvertently passing it on when we went shopping.”
The dad says “a little bit of notice” would’ve made a huge difference in allowing parents and schools to be prepared. His son has coped okay, he adds, as his sister is off and he understands the seriousness of the pandemic – “but he’s disappointed he cannot see his friends and struggled to grasp why he could go yesterday but not today”.
Both Fleming and Straughton are able to work from home, so will be juggling home-schooling with their own work. However for other parents, the impact of yesterday’s decision will have repercussions on childcare.
Responding to a tweet by TV presenter Sue Perkins about the schools U-turn, parent Susan Wilcock said she was “furious” about the decision. “He’s rendered our childcare options at zero because of ONE DAY at school,” she said, referring to prime minister Boris Johnson.
“Grandparents could safely have done it after being so strict over Christmas and now it’s too risky!”
While health secretary Matt Hancock claimed the government has been criticised for “moving fast” in the pandemic, parents would mostly disagree.
“[The government] need to stop making decisions last minute,” says Fleming. “I’m aware things change quickly but some foresight is needed and decisions need to be made earlier so the effects on our children can be minimised.
“From the start, the only things we have wanted from the government is to prioritise everyone’s safety, have a clear and concise message that is not open to interpretation, and quickly provide the appropriate track and trace and vaccination measures to ensure the pandemic is contained and eradicated as quickly as is possible. I am not sure they have achieved any of these goals.”