‘Hellish’: parents in England on school life in the shadow of Covid | Education

As the school term draws to a close, parents have described the last few months as “hellish” and “extremely stressful”.

Candy Richards, 39, a PR associate from West Norfolk, is now looking after her 14-year-old son, Quinn, who is off school, having contracted coronavirus.

Candy Richards and Quinn.
Candy Richards and Quinn.

Prior to this, his whole school year was sent home as so many teachers were having to self-isolate that the school couldn’t cope. He also had a separate period at home when a friend at school tested positive. She says the term has been “emotionally draining and fragmented”.

“I think at one point they had around 16 teachers off either with the virus or self-isolating, so the school made the decision to send them home because they were just overwhelmed,” she said. “They just didn’t have enough teachers to cover lessons.”

Even with online learning being provided, she is concerned that Quinn’s grades have slipped, especially as he is in year 10 and beginning to prepare for his GCSEs. Aside from the periods spent at home, she says he is also struggling with all the windows open for ventilation.

“They’re not allowed to wear their coats, so you’ve got all these kids who are very cold which really impacts on their ability to concentrate,” she said.

Ellen Hamilton, 44, from East Lothian, Scotland, is unemployed due to long-term chronic pain from a work accident, and is a single mother to an 11-year-old daughter with autism.

“It’s been a constant source of extreme concern that she would bring the virus home to me,” she said. “I have severe asthma and it’s been a daily battle between keeping up her routine and thinking the virus could potentially cause my death which would leave her without the main source of stability in her life.”

Her daughter’s mental health has suffered and she now struggles with insomnia. “At the start of the year she was extremely anxious and I had to explain that children aren’t as affected but now she is worried about passing it to me.”

Hamilton believes there should be more support for families who are clinically vulnerable although she does note that the school have been trying their best.

“They are stuck between a rock and a hard place,” she said. “They can only follow guidance from the council and the government. I have written to everyone from local councillors to Nicola Sturgeon. I haven’t had much response but I want to know why clinically vulnerable people have been forgotten about.

“To be honest, this term has been hellish.”

Heather Lawson, 34, from Durham, who is on maternity leave from her job in learning and development, said her family had “lived on tenterhooks” all term wondering whether they would have to take their eldest son Toby, who is five this month, out of school.

“Every time the phone rings or the school app sends a notification I panic that it will be an instruction to self-isolate,” she said. “This actually happened when I was nine days overdue with my third baby and we had to handle a C-section and recovery with a four-year-old stuck at home. If we get another call before the end of term that’s all our Christmas plans out of the window.”

This term is also Toby’s first at school and although he has adapted very well, Lawson is sad they have missed a lot of school firsts such as parents’ evening and the nativity play.

“I haven’t been inside the school since we first chose it so I don’t know what his classroom looks like, but I remind myself that he doesn’t know that his experience is supposed to be any different.”

Kate Scheideler, 48, a single parent from London, says this term has been “extremely stressful”.

She has an autoimmune disease and worries her daughter will bring home the virus from school, or that it will be passed to her elderly mother who is in a support bubble with them.

Her daughter, who is in year 4, has been disrupted by several periods of self-isolation including when her class teacher contracted the virus and had serious symptoms. Scheideler has invested in home-schooling resources to aid her daughter’s learning and says the school has been doing its very best.

“I’m honestly counting the days till we break up for the holidays,” she said. “I don’t want to be stuck at home isolating just myself and my daughter over Christmas. I just don’t know if I’m going to bring my kid into school next week and a lot of us feel that way, especially because it’s getting worse in London.”

She added that she didn’t think the government was listening to people’s concerns: “I am already dreading going back in January. I get so worried and it’s very hard to trust the government.”

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