End of term Pupils and par­ents brace for an un­cer­tain sum­mer

The Guardian - - News - Alexan­dra Top­ping

At the start of this year, 15-year-old Akasha Da­ley was ready to set­tle into a pro­gramme of hard work and re­vi­sion. Now, with the news that schools are clos­ing, she, like many of her friends, has been left adrift and won­der­ing what her fu­ture holds.

“Ev­ery­one was dev­as­tated when we learnt that we wouldn’t be go­ing back to school and the exams were can­celled,” said the pupil at West­min­ster Academy, in west London. “Af­ter we found out, ev­ery­one was just so sad – it felt like the whole of year 11 went into melt­down.”

As par­ents pre­pare home­school­ing ideas and won­der how they will con­tinue to work, teach­ers are fran­ti­cally pulling to­gether les­son plans and on­line sup­port. As one tired teacher in Hast­ings put it: “I didn’t think the apoc­a­lypse would have this much ad­min.”

Yes­ter­day, it was al­ready ap­par­ent that many par­ents were feel­ing over­whelmed. “My hus­band is still work­ing, and I am try­ing to do a full­time job while look­ing af­ter a sev­enyear-old and a four-year-old,” said ac­coun­tant Claire McElar­ney, who, like thou­sands of other par­ents, had joined the Face­book group Fam­ily Lock­down Tips and Ideas. “I’m do­ing a crap job at work­ing and a crap job at par­ent­ing.”

Ber­nadka Du­bicka, chair of the child and ado­les­cent fac­ulty at the Royal Col­lege of Psy­chi­a­trists, said that while there may be pos­i­tives to school clo­sures, par­ents could come un­der a huge amount of pres­sure. “There is great scope to learn about so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity and get­ting in­volved. [How­ever] par­ents and car­ers also need to look af­ter their own health and try to con­tain their own anx­i­eties in front of their chil­dren,” she said.

Clos­ing schools was likely to add to grow­ing in­equal­ity in the UK and leave fam­i­lies who were al­ready strug­gling fi­nan­cially un­able to cope, warned Prof Becky Fran­cis, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Ed­u­ca­tion En­dow­ment Foun­da­tion (EEF).

“We an­tic­i­pate there will be longterm im­pacts on at­tain­ment gaps for dis­ad­van­taged pupils. There is a lot of ev­i­dence on the im­pact of sum­mer hol­i­days on the growth of achieve­ment gaps be­tween richer and poorer stu­dents,” she said.

“Chil­dren from dis­ad­van­taged fam­i­lies may be less likely to have close su­per­vi­sion be­cause par­ents are more likely to have to stay in work, and those are cru­cial fac­tors to be born in mind.”

West­min­ster Academy spent yes­ter­day in­form­ing pupils how classes would be mov­ing on­line – and as­sur­ing them that they would still be ex­pected to work, and would be tak­ing exams, at some point.

The school was de­ter­mined to sup­port pupils and staff dur­ing un­cer­tain times, said its prin­ci­pal, Saima Rana. “We are all in­fin­itely aware of the cri­sis and are filled with sad­ness, but we also have to con­sider a fu­ture when Covid-19 comes un­der con­trol. Our chil­dren are our fu­ture, and we have filled them with a tremen­dous sense of un­cer­tainty,” she said.

Asked if she felt wor­ried about the fu­ture, Akasha re­mained pos­i­tive. “I don’t think we are scared,” she said. “We are maybe anx­ious for our fu­ture, and I don’t think that anx­i­ety will go away un­til the gov­ern­ment tells us what’s go­ing to hap­pen. But we will get through it. This gen­er­a­tion will be the strongest this coun­try has ever seen.”


Schools will close to­day in a fur­ther move to com­bat the coro­n­avirus out­break

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