Written by Caitlin Parr
Illustration by Zoe Shields
The only thing that is clear at this point of the pandemic is that no decisions made make any sense at all. Whether that’s because they contradict other pieces of advice, or because they aren’t sensible or evidence based decisions.
Putting children at risk in any situation is a huge cause for concern but as we continue to go through the pandemic, should we really be risking their health and wellbeing for the sake of in person classes? The job of a teacher has always been an extremely underrated position, with the workload and dedication often being underestimated by the general public. However, with the added pressure of now keeping their class of children safe from coronavirus, organising social distancing logistics, and still teaching the curriculum, it is now a harder and more exhausting job than ever before. One way to avoid this and keep children safer would be to keep the schools closed.
This is a vulnerable demographic, and with some schools having multiple safeguarding concerns and a duty of care over children who are potentially not in the best home-life situation, it is understandable why schools feel that they need to be open. After all, a school is where some students feel safest and happiest, and in our current climate it could be a detrimental move to take that security away from them.
A routine and structured days are also a lot better for a young person’s mental health and wellbeing. Throughout the school day, they will be involved in a range of stimulating activities, develop their social skills, have allocated time for exercise and enjoyment, and get a nutritious meal at lunch time too. These are all crucial in the development of a child, and also in maintaining a good level of emotional wellbeing too.
On the other hand, however, entering a familiar building that is now running completely different and masked with PPE and unfamiliar systems, it could become quite overwhelming – especially for younger year groups. This is a very scary thought, and no member of staff will want to scare the children but it is of course necessary procedures if young people do have to be in schools now. By following these procedures there is also a lesser chance of spreading the virus, but what happens when a child shows symptoms?
As Autumn and Winter arrive, we are entering the time where almost every child will catch a mild sniffle or a cough usually. After displaying any coronavirus symptoms, a child can no longer go into school until they have had confirmed negative test results. Some coronavirus symptoms are also very normal to have as a result of fatigue and anxiety, both things that are very normal in young people during any normal back-to-school period. Especially in this time, young people who have to be around hundreds of peers every day are likely to be extremely anxious, and feel some of the physical symptoms that come with this. For example – shortness of breath, over-heating, or experiencing dizziness, which can all be ‘flu-like’.
With testing still scarce it is not worth the risk of leaving a child in school when they could have the virus. With the new rule of six in place, infection rates should diminish over time, but it is not always that simple.
It goes without saying that there are more than six pupils in the average classroom. And, for every one child in a classroom, there is an entire family unit behind them that has their own routine, jobs, and their own potentially virus-spreading daily interactions.
Depending on the family unit there could be multiple people in the household that have full time and/or front line jobs, meaning they’re potentially regularly exposed to the virus and then bringing it back home. This is, of course, at no fault of the worker’s as you now have to return to work if you cannot work from home – which is the case for the now redefined ‘front-line’ industry.
Logistically, it is also very difficult to coordinate staggered break and lunch times and designing one-way systems, particularly in smaller schools. Not only does this add extra safeguarding stress to the members of staff throughout the day.
Does this time take away from education? If the pupils were still at home, then they could be having a continuous stream of classes throughout the day and would never have to stop to sanitize, adjust their masks, or worry that they may have contracted Coronavirus at some point of the day.
In my local nursery school, the teachers and support staff have to change their uniform in the lunch hour, after the morning nursery children and before the afternoon nursery children come in. This is of course, to avoid infection, but has been said to cause a lot of extra anxiety for the members of staff – who, not only now have double the amount of laundry to do over night, but also have double the chance of taking the virus home to their families. And, of course this worry is on top of the already extremely difficult task of trying to get a group of 3-4 year-olds to distance themselves from one another and not share their toys.
Travelling to school is also a cause for concern during the pandemic, as multiple age groups are often mixing on the school buses. This is not the only time that different age groups will mix, however, as it is not uncommon for a pupil to have siblings or cousins that may be in their family ‘bubble’ that are in other year groups in school. But, if a child tests positive after being in school then it is usually only their year group that has to stay at home and self-isolate.
Now that bars, clubs (without the dance floors), and huge stores are open again we could easily contract the virus in any walk of life – even if we are extremely careful. By not having children in schools, this takes one risk out of the equation, and a family can rest a little easier knowing that they don’t have to be worrying about their child throughout the day.
I think that for the health and wellbeing benefits of the children, no, schools should not be allowed to reopen. Working in schools in the past, however, I can completely appreciate the safety net that the school community provides for some children who rely on the security, routine, or even the hot meals to provide some support in their day.