While the media jokes about parents finally being able to wave goodbye to their little ones once schools reopen fully in the next few weeks, not all of them will be counting down the minutes until the school gates open. For some, the fact that new infection rates are higher now than they were when school closures were originally announced in March 2020 is disturbing and concerning. Factor in the anxieties of families that are shielding those who are particularly vulnerable to Covid-19, and it is obvious that trepidation rather than joy is the over-riding feeling for many.
When it comes to reassuring parents, who may have significant concerns about what the term ahead will bring when schools are full again, these ideas may help:
We may hear politicians and scientists making strong statements about how safe it is for children to return to school and for classes to be as full as they usually are under non-pandemic conditions, but the fact remains that we do not know for certain how safe full classrooms and the children and staff within them will be. While children may not suffer unduly if they catch the virus, we need far more research and evidence on the extent to which asymptomatic children may carry and pass on the virus to the adults around them, some of whom may be particularly vulnerable, and this aspect of the return to school has been largely absent from assertions on safety. An honest appraisal of the situation is more likely to reassure; we cannot eliminate the risks, but we can do everything in our power to mitigate them where possible.
Recent news reports about research into the children who were adversely affected by Covid-19, for example this from the BBC, have strongly emphasized the finding that the children who have suffered most had significant underlying health issues. While this may be a relief to some parents of otherwise healthy children, to others whose children do have underlying health conditions the message is not so reassuring. Every child matters, and parents will need to know that additional measures are in place if at all possible for vulnerable children. This is a time for school communities to figuratively pull together in their efforts to protect all.
Parents who have concerns about their child catching SARS-CoV-2, or about the virus being passed on by their asymptomatic child to a vulnerable family member, will need regular reassurance that every possible safety measure is in place and adhered to. Handwashing, sanitizing, distancing, bubbles, proper ventilation throughout the school (no classrooms with closed windows!), and mask wearing where indicated as a minimum will all help to reassure. In most schools these measures will be highly visible; this is demonstrable evidence that safety comes first.
Time to talk
Although the usual opportunities to talk to parents may not be appropriate as schools get fully up and running again, it is incredibly important to find ways of communicating with parents safely. If concerned parents feel they are being kept at a distance, their anxieties are unlikely to abate. Face to face conversations may not be advisable now but communication can still take place safely via email, phone or through internet platforms such as Zoom. Whichever method of communication you opt for, there’s a real possibility you’re the haven of calm that some particularly concerned parents really need.
Special Educational Needs
According to research by NASEN, the National Association for Special Educational Needs, some parents of children with SEN want further assurances about the return to school https://nasen.org.uk/news/parents-of-children-with-send-want-more-reassurance-about-sending-them-back-to-school.html. The clear message is that communication is key, particularly where specific concerns still remain (and it’s likely those reassurances will be necessary throughout the term). This cannot really be over-done.
Whether the parents at your school are jubilant, worried or something between at the prospect of schools being fully open, one thing is clear – we really are all in this together. And, given that our response to the risks that Covid-19 presents will vary according to our circumstances, the unique challenges in education will be best met with patience and understanding all round. Acknowledge, mitigate, reassure, will be the way ahead for the foreseeable future.
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.