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What are Parent's Fears as Schools Reopen?

Apr 09, 2021

There has been a mixed response to the government's announcement of schools reopening across England this week.  While it is welcomed by many parents who are reaching saturation point with their children's remote learning or who need to get back to work, it has also sparked concerns. 

A poll undertaken by Redfield and Wilton Strategies (2021) revealed that only two-thirds of parents plan to send their children back to school this month. If these figures are accurate, this result indicates that a significant proportion of families have real concerns about going back to school, something we really should be talking about!

This blog post looks at parents' concerns about their children moving back to school and what schools can do to support families with this transition. Let's not forget that this is still unknown territory and that teachers also have apprehensions. This article is not a complete set of answers, but something we hope will spark thought, discussion and support.

So, what are parents fears?

Parents fear their children will be more at risk of catching and transmitting Covid-19, that mental health needs will not be met, or that they will not catch up academically. Some parents raise the question of whether school-based learning is the best option for their child at all. And for some, the worries centre around reestablishing structure and routine.

We mustn't make assumptions about what is most concerning to families. Each child, parent, carer, family, teacher and school will have a different set of circumstances and fears. What is critical is understanding the wide range of possible concerns and keeping communication open.

Physical safety

Understandably, many parents are worried about the transmission of the virus in schools. While cases are falling nationally, the virus is still in general circulation, and the measures to prevent transmission in schools haven't changed. Gov.UK states that 'children may have a lower risk of catching Covid-19' and are 'definitely at a lower hospitalisation rate'. However, schools' reopening will undoubtedly result in high numbers of young people in confined areas for prolonged periods. This continued close contact is a cause for concern for many parents, especially those with clinically vulnerable family members at home who are worried about unavoidable exposure to the virus. Parents and carers of children with SEND are particularly anxious. Their children may not be able to keep socially distant and may have health issues that put them at a higher risk.

Mental Health

As well as concerns over physical health, some parents are worried about what school reopening will mean for their child's mental health. The cycle of schools closing and opening over the past year has been incredibly disruptive for students and has caused a great deal of anxiety for families. Isolation, loss of routine, chaotic home lives,  increased levels of poverty are just a few of the effects that the prolonged periods of lockdown have had on some children. Returning to school with already high stress levels, children may face changes to friendship groups and separation anxiety. There is also the ever-present academic pressures with stories in the press of longer days and fewer holidays. While schools are striving for normalcy, and the government has promised that these latest measures are 'irreversible', many parents are sceptical. If the schools were to close again in a couple of months, the increased impact on their child's mental health is hugely worrying.

In addition to the significant issues of child welfare, other anxiety-inducing issues concerning parents range from difficulties in obtaining uniform to worries about getting nocturnal teenagers out of bed and into school on time. 

Learning from Home

The media has reported widely on the 'lost generation' of children falling desperately behind due to school closures. However, anecdotally, PEN has heard many instances of children thriving whilst learning from home. Parents and teachers have shared with us reports of happier children performing better in their subjects and learning new skills (such as teaching themselves a new language and fixing a car engine!) as a result of remote learning. What happens to these children when they are ushered back into school and to traditional learning expectations? It's understandable why these children's parents fear losing this learning momentum as the more rigid demands of schoolwork takes priority leaving less time and incentive for children to take the initiative for their own learning.

What can schools do?

So at this stressful time, what can your school do to ease this transition for families? Parent's have had so much involvement in their child's education over the last year, and communication has been significantly enhanced over lockdown. We don't want to lose that good practice, the quality conversations, and the parents' engagement. They are an essential part of supporting learning at home.

The main thing is to continue to work in partnership with your families, listen to them, and acknowledge their concerns. Remember you're on the same team and working with them and not against them. In terms of home learning, parents roles will change. Be clear about the purpose of what you are sending home, explain why tasks need to be completed, and how.

Ensure your messaging to families is warm and welcoming; avoid educational jargon and personalise messages whenever possible. Anticipate what parents' concerns may be and manage expectations by giving clear, short messages about what children and parents can expect to happen.

You may also consider easing up on policies that may have been non-negotiable before the pandemic, such as uniform and punctuality. If you do make temporary changes to these policies, set clear boundaries and let parents know why you're doing it. 

Remember that this is new for all of us. The main thing is to work in partnership with your families. Honest, transparent, two-way communication is what will work best. If you'd like to discuss this further with other schools, come along to our network meetings, held every week in term time.

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