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 bring up. 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.
Hannah lives with her three-year-old son and six-year-old daughter, Sophie, who is in primary school.
Hannah is a single mum, and her children usually spend several days with their dad every other week. She usually works part time and is based in an office or out on the road, visiting community services. Her parents normally help with childcare, and she has a nursery place for her son.
Since lockdown began, the children’s dad has been looking after them two and a half days a week to allow Hannah to work from home, and alongside the flexibility shown by her employer this has allowed her to carry on working. The children’s dad has little or no money coming in, as he was self-employed before lockdown, but now has no work.
Hannah had been coping financially during lockdown, but when her daughter’s primary school changed how it was sending work home, she ran into problems:
“Initially the school issued packs of worksheets and bits and pieces for us to work through. But then everything went online, which is great, a much more efficient way of doing things. But in our house we don’t have any devices. I have a work laptop and my phone, but other than that we didn’t have anything. But then when the work started to come through online, and the apps she needed to do what was being asked, I couldn’t access them. And although I’ve got enough money month to month to run the house and do everything that we need, I didn’t have money just sitting that I would be able to buy technology.”
Hannah got in touch with the school to see whether she could apply for a grant to buy a digital device, but was told there weren’t any schemes like that. In the end, her parents bought a device so that their granddaughter could do her work. Hannah felt she had no choice but to take up her parents’ offer, as Sophie’s learning would suffer otherwise:
”There’s quite a lot of pressure, although they’re saying ‘do as much as you can, or you don’t have to do too much work’. But it’s constantly coming through, so you’re thinking well I don’t want her to not be doing what she should be, and she suffers when she returns to school.”
Beyond the physical resources which would have helped the family cope, such as digital devices, jotters and art materials, there has also been little opportunity to interact with teachers. At one point Sophie had been struggling, so the school deputy head got in touch and talked to her about how she was feeling. This contact was much appreciated by the family, but Hannah would like it to happen more regularly:
”So far there’s been no opportunity to request the teacher to interact with anything directly, to talk on Zoom or something similar, which I think would be really helpful. Just so that people could get a face to face check in.”
Better communication around what resources are needed could have made a big difference to this family:
”At no point did anybody approach me to say have you got what you need, like can you get onto Google Classroom? It was just assumed that that would be something I had. I think people make an assumption because you’re in work and whatever else that you would just have these things. That was actually not the case, but nobody asked. I’d imagine that some people wouldn’t want to lose face by asking the question themselves. So if they asked everybody, you know what is it you need, that would open up a few more conversations.”
Being a single Mum during lockdown has been lonely, and Hannah’s had ups and downs:
”It’s stressful, because you know, I’m a single parent so I don’t have another adult who comes home at the end of the day and you talk to. I can call people and whatever, but it’s tough, that kind of mental load of being a mum and being on my own. It’s been tough.”
All names have been changed.