As part of the research for our Cost of Learning in Lockdown report, we conducted some interviews with parents and carers from across the UK, who shared with us their family’s experience of school closures. We’re now publishing some of these interviews on our blog, to shine a light on these important stories and the issues that they raise. We’re very grateful to the parents and carers who took part in these interviews: thank you for helping us understand the impact of lockdown measures on family life, and informing our recommendations to schools, local authorities and the government.
Anna lives with her three children in the suburbs of a fairly large town. Her children are aged 9, 10 and 12. The younger two attend the local primary school, and Anna’s eldest daughter is in the first year (7) of secondary school.
Anna had been looking for work before the pandemic:
“I am currently unemployed. I had been looking for work that fits around the children, obviously in lockdown that’s been put on hold because I’ve got no childcare. Looking to go back into the workplace has stalled, as has my learning – I was going to do some courses with the local community college, but everything has stopped.”
Anna’s primary concern during the period of school closures has been her children’s mental health:
“At first the kids thought it was great – no school – for the first couple of weeks. But as it’s progressed, their mental health and wellbeing has changed. They don’t want to do as much as they wanted to do before, their interest is going down. My eldest has gone into a sort of social isolation, where she is really unsociable with us all. My main concern about the impact of school closure is their own mental health, their own anxiety. They are banned from watching the news because it would drive them crazy.”
Anna is concerned that her children have not had sufficient personal contact with school. She felt her children had, to some extent, been overlooked:
“The primary children have had two phone calls in the 10 weeks. All the children would like more communication from the school. The secondary school that the eldest daughter goes to sent me a message, saying that they are pleased that they’ve been able to speak to the majority of the Y7 students, but they’ve not rung us. She’s not spoken to one member of staff for 10 weeks.”
Anna has faced additional expenses while her children are at home:
“Our financial situation has changed totally, with them being at home all the time. I’ve had to buy a lot more learning aids for the children, because whereas at school they would be doing arts and crafts and PE, I had to provide all that. I’ve had to buy all the stuff to enable them to get on with online learning. In school, they would have all these things at their fingertips.”
“The primary school provided the children with an A4 exercise book, but I’ve had to buy more. I’ve had to buy stationery and the educational books for KS2 for the children to work from – English and maths, French. I need to give them something to do and learn from if I have internet issues. School has been guiding us to websites. They used to put on daily activities for the children to do, but now they’ve gone to doing weekly activities. They have to access it online and print it out. I’m in the process of purchasing a printer, which we didn’t need before because we would use the local library.”
Alongside the stress and expense of buying additional learning resources, there has been tension created by all the children having to share a computer:
“We have a laptop that all three of them share, so they have to take it in turns. My eldest has to log on to google classroom to see her tutors, so they all have to go on the computer at different times. The older one has stuff on google classroom but it’s not put on there all the time. She is struggling.”
Anna’s youngest child struggled to work online:
“My daughter doesn’t like working on a computer. She needs to have the work in front of her. It’s all online. Nothing is given to them in handouts. I have enquired at the schools to see if they could print out the weekly tasks on paper and send it to the children, but I’ve not heard back. I believe that school could have done more to help. I’ve asked for the work to be printed out. Why can’t they print it for her? The school could have provided them with stationery and pencil cases. They each have a pencil case at school, they could have sent the pencil cases home with the children, but I’ve had to go out and buy everything that they need for them.”
Anna explained her worries about money and the effect of the benefit cap on her finances. She described her efforts to access funds from her local council:
“I’m worried sick about money. I was trying to better myself before all this started, so I could get something for the children, and also get myself a work life. Thank god the government raised UC. On one hand we got the raises, but I’m subject to the benefit cap. But I can’t get off the benefit cap, because I can’t find a job, I can’t work with the children at the moment, and I can’t move into cheaper accommodation because there isn’t any available. So the cap makes a huge difference. Financially I am struggling but it’s another thing I just hide from the children.”
The government free school meal voucher scheme has generally worked well for Anna and her family, though the administration was problematic at times:
“The school has put the children on the Edenred voucher scheme, which we get fortnightly. That’s fine. We’re restricted as to where we can shop because I don’t drive and I can’t get to the larger supermarket. The vouchers are easy to use, but when you get them you have to go onto a website, and sometimes there’s a 30 minute wait to get to the screen, so it’s a matter of finding the best time of day to use it. The vouchers from the secondary school were delayed by about four weeks but I think that’s because everyone was using the site. They were backdated. I can’t fault the system. It’s been really helpful. £15 a week for a child isn’t a lot, particularly because I go to the local Tesco’s – since lockdown, the prices have been creeping up each day. It’s been helpful. It has helped me provide them with the stuff they need.”
Anna worries about the expense of sending the children back to school:
“If they went back I’d have to buy new school uniform, because they’ve grown. They’d need a whole new wardrobe – new school uniform, new shoes – because they’ve grown. If they go back to school, it’ll be like starting a new year and buying them all new clothes. So, I’d have to buy everything.”
The family are also nervous about how schools are going to have to change:
“When they go back to school, there are all these new measures, how are they going to react to it? They understand that they won’t be sat like they were, with four on a table. I showed them a picture of how school will look, and they were horrified. ‘That’s not a class’, they said. All the things about alternate days and staggered start and finishing times sound like a nightmare.”
Names have been changed.