I met a woman today who has children of 9 and 7 and she described to me how one child will go back to school in September but only until 2pm and the other one until 2.20pm.
She laughed when I said that the school needs to consider the mothers’ domestic and professional workload. “Ha! That school is not run with even half a mind on the parents,” she said. She said this as if it was a big laughing matter. My face turned to stone.
I set out to her all the points that I have set out here over the last week and told her that she must band together with other parents and ask the council and the school if this shortened day is really absolutely necessary.
That is not a full school day, that is not children returning to full-time education, as Boris Johnson his very self promised. More important now than ever is a full school day considering they have lost term-time to catch up on: going home at 2pm is part time education. And it is probably an unnecessarily cautious interpretation of the guidelines – remember they are guidelines and not rules. Not law, not legislation.
She looked at me really surprised and shocked and then suddenly pissed off when I told her that her needs as a human being need to be prioritised and swore to me that she would galvanise her peers.
Please, please do the same to other women you meet and talk to. Evangelise. Preach. You matter! We matter! The schools closing again is a possibility and until then curtailed hours are a reality. Do not unquestioningly accept the initial offer from your school.
You don’t have to rage around and defensively call everyone a c***, just ask questions, loudly and persistently and get others to do the same. Don’t write one email, signed from many – send many individual emails. CC your MP and anyone else in a local decision-making position you can think of.
Be chill but, with your band of sisters, be very hard to ignore. Do the children really have to go home at 2pm? Why? Please show me where in the guidelines it says this. Please show me how you have interpreted advice from the government in this way.
Please. Please and thank you.
NB PLEASE SCROLL DOWN TO THE COMMENT FROM ROSIE WITH SOME EXCELLENT PRACTICAL ADVICE ON HOW TO APPROACH YOUR SCHOOL IF YOU FEEL THE OFFERING DOES NOT COUNT AS ‘FULL TIME’. THANK YOU ROSIE!
This is ridiculous, I am a school administrator and we have had as many children back as we could as soon as we could, (we moved heaven and earth to get all year 5 in as well, and years 1, 2 and 3 in for several days each) and absolutely going completely full time from September.
Thank you Michelle this is EXACTLY what everyone needs to hear x
Claire E says
YES! I have to say our state school in Gloucestershire has been absolutely brilliant but we seem to be in the minority. My current Y1 child went back 2 days per week from half term, we had detailed videos for the children To watch on the new drop off & pick up arrangements as well as exactly what the classroom would look like, how break times would work etc. Classes were split in two groups Mon/Tues & Thurs/Fri with Weds as cleaning and PPA time. The whole school managed to get in for at least 2/3 weeks on this basis & we are a 3 form entry so up to 90 kids per year group. Plus all kids with keyworker parents were kept in a separate bubble.
My youngest starts Reception in Sept and as they haven’t been able to do settling in sessions they will be done during the first week back and then start on a staggered basis 7th or 14th depending on age. Drop off & pick ups will be staggered over a 45 min period but all children will get a full day.
Where there’s the will, there is a way!
Thank you Claire!
Yes! Make a fuss. Pushback. Have c*nt in your arsenal, but save it for a rainy day.
I had a very chaotic childhood — in lots of ways it had stuff you definitely would not want for your kids. BUT, my parents did not do that thing where they taught me to be nice and suck it up to avoid confrontation and make things easier for someone else. If someone treated me badly or if things were unfair, they were like ‘Do not take this. Dig deep and sort it out’. And you know what, it is a lesson that has served me well in later life. Almost 100% of the time if you make a big enough fuss, for long enough, especially when it is justified, you do get the other party to give you what you want.
… and most of the time, you don’t even need to make THAT much of a fuss. British people in general are so awkward that all you need to do is smile widely and go “ERRRR” and the other person folds.
YES. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
Here in Wales there has been great variation in schools too. My children’s school divided the children into four groups (keeping siblings together) and had each group back for one week before the holidays. Reception have a half-day on 2nd September then rest of school back over the following two days. Years 3-6 8:45-3:15 and R-2 9-3. I feel pissed off enough that I only get 9-3 for my two – 2pm would cause me to ‘have a word’. The Welsh Government have been super-vague all along but to give our school credit they’ve been straight into action every time there’s been an announcement.
Thank you Esther for this, and for your previous pieces on schools and mums. It’s so so so important!
Some practical advice – try to email the School Business Manager or Headteacher directly. Or the CEO if it is an Academy Trust. Generic school inboxes are likely not monitored over the summer, and only the senior team (usually Heads, Assistant/Deputy Heads and the Business Manager) are looking at emails. We have our post held until 1st Septmber, and no one is in answering phones. I think you will have more luck with the school directly rather than the council. Even if a school hasn’t academised, local councils don’t really manage schools on an operational level any more. They would have produced a planning document and generic risk assessment, but the planning will be at school level as it is so dependent on the individual context/geography of the building etc. There is no Local Authority scrutiny of these plans, they are approved internally. This may be different for London Boroughs!
Your strongest argument will be where the guidance says ‘staggered start and finish times should not reduce the amount of overall teaching time’, as it sounds as if they have absolutely done that, unless they are starting pre 8am. I wish I could say they would be swayed by the human argument, but I think the educational concerns will be more powerful to school leaders, and make them nervous in terms of press coverage/Ofsted interventions. Especially if they have already extended lunch and breaks to facilitate separation of groups during the school day.
Staggered drop off/pick up is probably a bit of a necessary evil. We’re a 4 form entry primary so without this we have 800 children arriving at once. There are better ways to do it though, our maximum time between first and last is 20 mins, and we’ve done it by surname to avoid sibling conflicts.
Rosie you are angelic to take the time to write all this down – thank you so much
Hi Rosie – if you see this can you drop me an email? firstname.lastname@example.org xxx
Our school has proposed flexible drop off between 8.30 and 9 am and pick up between 3.15 and 3.45 (we are a 5 form school so 1000+ children).
We railed against the school not taking more children back 2 months ago, so much so that they reassessed and managed to take an extra 80 children back, full time, for the last 2 weeks of term, despite previously saying that they were full to the rafters and couldn’t accommodate other children and that they were following LA guidelines. This, when many other schools in the same LA were managing to accommodate more children back on a rota basis. So it’s definitely worth kicking up a fuss and pushing your point. And with 500+ children, there were still no Covid pupil/teacher transmission incidents (one teacher got Covid several months ago but didn’t catch it from a pupil and none of the children in her class or the wider school caught it from her (all were tested).
Caroline this is so helpful to hear.
I feel so angry and bewildered- why are the various local schools in the same area so different? Why are state primaries in our local area With similar population, same rules, same size able to Offer more on site teaching and a better online provision. I just can’t understand it!
In today’s Observer- anxious parents leaving state schools for private, due To being unhappy with lockdown education.
This is certainly us. I’ve not considered it before now but I was so unimpressed with our schools handling of home schooling and, more than anything, their failure to communicate why they were doing (or not doing) things.
I am the Chair of our PTA. I am involved in making improvements. I care! But I felt shut out confused and unheard about my concerns about the lack of education my children were being given.
The guy quoted in the article getting huffy about what state schools did for children of key workers and SEN etc ignores that MOST KIDS aren’t in those groups and were just abandoned to whatever their mothers could manage. He also ignores the entirely confusing variety of responses within local schools barely a few miles apart. Some were crap and some were amazing!
I am really crossed, really unimpressed and I will be making a fuss.
Totally agree, Emily – the variation between schools in the same LA is confusing. And the fact that the gov’t decided that critical workers, which includes people who work for credit card companies, for example, should get the same privileges as Actual Essential and Brilliant Key Workers – sorry, but WTAF!!! How are they “Critical” so that their children get priority over other working parents or parents who are not working but struggling to cope with home schooling and slowly crumbling under the strain of it all? Once the main crisis was over and the NHS and police and genuine key workers etc were not overstretched, all kids should have been back at school, even if on a rota basis.
Men should rally about this too. Have you read The Mental Load by French cartoonist Emma? Very good.
Ava I agree. And I wonder how they can be encouraged. I half-wondered about some sort of UK-wide women’s strike where wives look after themselves and their children but not their husbands until they get on board, but that would probably do more harm than good
I 100% agree about the absolute horrors of home schooling HOWEVER I do believe you might be massively underestimating the impact of a second corona wave. If you look around the world, second waves are becoming incredibly difficult to contain as everyone understandably has lockdown fatigue. The way this summer has opened up so quickly and the number of people travelling in Europe as though none of this ever happened I fear the second wave is coming thick and fast and will be very hard to contain.
This is all incredibly unprecedented and I can’t help feeling a 2pm finish is a godsend especially if a staggered finished stops a huge amount of interaction at school gates which in Australia they were concerned is more risky than the kids being at school.
I’m in Hong Kong where the kids were home from beginning of February and went back in June for reduced hours for 4 weeks. We are in midst of a second wave which despite rigorous mask wearing and some lockdown measures has not shown any sign of slowing. The kids are due back to school in 3 weeks but there are rumours of the kids not making it in for face to face teaching until the end of 2020 🤯.
Hello, thanks for your comment but I feel like you have misunderstood me a bit. What I am saying is that opening schools and keeping them open ought to be prioritised over *everything* else, considering the evidence we now have regarding the low rates of transmission between children compared with other social groups.
Divorce is through the roof, as is new instances of alcoholism among women in their thirties and forties. This isn’t funny, this is a health crisis.
I’m also trying to encourage mothers, who have a tendency to just nod and say “yes okay” when they are asked to take on yet more work, to ask some polite questions about school policy, which is being made by men with no *real* understanding of the huge potential for mental and physical harm to women.
This isn’t me thinking the virus doesn’t exist or that it’s somehow silly or a joke, I just want to encourage women to make sure absolutely everything is being done to get children back into school for as full day as possible. I wouldn’t be saying this if the evidence showed that children were particularly good at spreading the virus or that they were particularly vulnerable.
I am extremely concerned for the mothers in your area who might have to keep their children at home until the end of 2020
Here in Canada, the schools shut completely mid-March. Online learning
was a fail for our 15 year old who benefits far more with in face schooling. Awaiting word Aug 4 on the plan for September start, looks like it might be a hybrid of at home and in school teaching, part of it the choice of parents. Definitely planning for in school full time for our kid.
Lesley Somerville says
My feeling is that children/schools are being used as a kind of ‘human shield’ to distract people from the real areas of concern, such as poor working and living conditions. These are the places where transmission happens, as has already been shown in places like Singapore where migrant workers are crammed into hostels, or in the UK where sweat shops are not following the rules. But let’s make a song and dance about keeping children safe because no one wants to be the person saying we shouldn’t care about children, and the cost in economic terms is low – as you say Esther, mums just suck it up and the rich will make sure their children get tutors to make up the deficit. It’s all part of the smoke and mirrors which makes sure that the status quo remains firmly in place, where it suits those in power.
Lesley this is a really interesting point!
Absolutely! Also been proven here that the high prevalence of deaths in black and Asian communities is due to the fact these communities more likely to be living in poverty – poor housing conditions and poor working conditions are the biggest predictor of death, and I’d also bet my house on them also being biggest predictor of contagion too, given where we are seeing outbreaks.
Just to counter – from the schools’ point of view it has been INCREDIBLY difficult, confusing and stressful to manage any return to schools. The majority of teachers are women, many with young children themselves, who are often not able to return full-time and so schools are operating with reduced staff (plus many who have additional risk, eg may be diabetic or shielding partners) while also having to put in very time-consuming extra measures such as regular deep-cleaning. I’m a FT-working mother of 3, none of whom have been at school since March – believe me, I want more than anyone for the kids to be back. But I’m also a school governor and have seen how tricky it is for schools to re-open – the risk assessments are like novels, and for every parent asking for the schools to open, we have many many other parents asking about our hygiene measures, social distancing, how can we guarantee that their children are safe…. The gov guidelines have been overwhelming and unhelpful and the stress on senior school leaders immense. Teachers are not sending children home early lightly, they have to manage many more complex elements in the school day. By all means ask your school about hours but please please lobby your MP as well to provide additional resource for schools – extra cleaning resource, money for tech upgrades, laptops for children etc.
Elizabeth thank you for this. Of course, pressure needs to be applied in all areas. I can see of course that the measures handed to schools have been insane, the things that are asked of them. In the light of the new evidence about transmission rates in children, this all needs to be reassessed
The government advice (both UK and devolved in Scotland) has been frustrating from a teachers point of view.
LITERALLY in Scotland 3 days before the end of term the government line was children to be in for 2 days per week so all planning was done accordingly with, I imagine, huge cost to each local authority to print and distribute signage and organise classrooms and find extra spaces to accommodate children, remove furniture which can’t be cleaned etc and then as I drove into school on the Wednesday I heard the Scottish education minister on the radio saying children would be back 50% of the time which obviously is 2.5 days. Hmm, I thought to myself, how will we manage that? 3 days one week 2 days the next? 2.5 days each week with intensive cleaning over lunch? Gosh I thought, I will have to redo timetables so fit in more face to face time per week rather than home learning. But then!! By the end of the day we were all coming back full time and all the preparation and work which had gone in to part time schooling was out the window and I suddenly had to write new risk assessment, redo timetables (again!) and scratch my head as to how I was going to reorganise my classroom (again).
I work in a special school so significantly lower class sizes but it is still a massive headache and even now, when i am going back to school on Monday I actually am not 100% sure what I am going back to and assume I will have to make more changes again before the children return on Wednesday.
So much time, energy and money has been wasted because those in power kept changing their minds and, as far as I can see, it hasn’t affected transmission rates at all.
Charlotte Shelton says
You are absolutely spot on, as you have been with everything you have written/posted about the whole school closure debacle. I understand where posters like Elizabeth are coming from, it IS hard to reopen schools safely & satisfy all parents concerns, but then it’s hard to do pretty much anything at the moment. We seem to have managed to re-open pubs, shops, restaurants, airports etc etc so we simply have to find a way.
If some parents are not happy sending their kids back in September because they don’t feel they will be safe then so be it, but if many (like me) need to send them back for their own (& the kids) sanity, so I can work again effectively instead of shoehorning getting back into work around the school holidays then let us PLEASE.
As you say, we are all too willing to accept the possibility of part time schooling becoming the norm as we feel too guilty to push for anything else. We & our kids deserve more than this, they need to learn and we need to try and resume a more normal existence.
Most schools are not losing any learning time. They will be having shortened break/lunch times to accommodate the staggered starts and finishes.
It’s not really about learning time, it’s about giving mothers some semblance of a day back so that they don’t lose their jobs/work/minds
More children have been injured/ killed in their home than by Covid. No reported cases of child to teacher transmission. Schools need to be open.
I have done almost no homeschooling as it makes us all unhappy and our happiness is important at the moment, they’ll catch up academically.
I’ll need to be at school by 2.45 for pick up so I’m holding off on going back to work, I know of one school where parents have 50 minute staggered drop off and pick up, impossible to work.
One thing which is vital for parents and on which I have seen no guidance at all is whether school transport will be allowed to run. All the guidelines about year group “bubbles” for secondary school pupils completely ignore the critical issue of getting children to and from school. There are hundreds of schools across the country which only work because they have coach services. Working parents rely on them. But I have yet to see any “guidance” anywhere about these. It does not help mothers if schools can reopen but the transport is removed. A friend of mine was saying this week that if she and her husband are required to drive their children to and from their two secondary schools, that’s the best part of fout hours out of both their days. Not workable and an environmental disaster.
Why can’t the DfE issue instruction/formal guidance to schools on this? I appreciate that it’s complicated, but a clearly set out guide on how the schools should be operating would mean less odd decisions being made on a local level. DfE should write to all schools setting out the HOW, with a nod to the fact that, yes we know some schools are academies, private, church, whatever, they all have to have the children in school full time and they are being told how to do it sensibly.
Also, how come the staggered starts never go the other way, why does it have to be finishing at 2, why not 3:15 for instance so that parents don’t have to leave work early.
I agree with you so much!
Lockdown was unutterably hateful for me (and I was in my country pad, no money worries and a massive garden) and it made me feel like I was going to kill one of my children. I broke my “never shout” rule for about the third time in 7 years (and then I kept shouting and yelling everyday and it was awful until I managed to calm myself down with GIN AND TONIC EVERYDAY). I say this not to be smug (because I don’t think I’m all that) but because I am generally a “keen” mother. I like a lot of their chat, I enjoy sitting on the floor and playing trains, I can tolerate HOURS of board games… i use my little one’s nap to read aloud to the other two…) I was very well equipped for lockdown and IT BROKE ME. Genuinely, I went from a mum who wouldn’t be ashamed to be live streamed (except on the loo, where I hide and read Twitter) to a shouty mother, who on one occasion came incredibly close to violence. I keep thinking about all the mothers who struggle more than I do. Lots of my friends find days with their kids tough. Somehow, I have been broken sufficiently that I don’t (usually) struggle. What about people without space? Without resources?
I fell SO FAR in such a short space… what about the mums who already hit their kids???
This is a bit of a jumble. What I’m saying is that it seems INSANE to push mothers to the brink like this. Because many people are in a worse situation than lucky me and I struggled SO MUCH.
Thank you so so SO much for this. I was never Mum of the Year but I chose to go part time, wanted to be there baking and crafting blah blah blah, but I did not sign up for *this* and it really fucking shows.