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'I have no clue what it will be like when she goes back': Parents share their fears about their children returning to school

Children also told of their worries about the new layout of classes.

Image: Shutterstock/BlurryMe

PARENTS OF BOTH primary and secondary school pupils have shared their concerns about the lack of clarity about September’s return to school. 

This year’s Barnardos annual Back to School Survey found that while the vast majority of people wanted to see their children go back to class, both parents and the children were very worried about contracting Covid-19 and passing it on to vulnerable people in their families. 

The survey also found that traditional fears about returning to school, such as financial pressures, have not gone away and have made the Covid crisis even more difficult for many parents. Some children are also worried about returning to school for other reasons, like dealing with bullies. 

The new ways in which classes are to be spaced out has also made some victims of bullying nervous about the new regime. 

Schools are also being asked to move furniture around in the classroom to maximise physical distancing, and although children and teachers won’t be obliged to wear face coverings, they can do so in areas where they cannot socially distance.

The advice in the school guidance is that teachers and students should be a minimum of 1 metre apart, and where possible, stay 2 metres apart.

In the government’s guidance, it says that implementing ‘Class Bubbles’ and ‘Pods’ within those bubbles may reduce the risk of infection. This would also hopefully mean that if a student contracts the virus, then only that pod or classroom would have to be sent home to self-isolate, instead of the entire school. 

One primary school girl who was interviewed for the survey said she was concerned about this idea.

I am excited to see my friends but I live with my nana and I am worried about getting the virus and giving it to her. The news said we might have to stick with 3 people this makes me sad and makes me feel really worried as I have girls in my class that bully me. I feel worried what if I get put with one what do I do?

Suzanne Connolly, Barnardos CEO, said this year’s survey was changed to reflect the difficult circumstances parents and school pupils find themselves in.

“As well as asking parents about the cost of sending their child to school, we were keen to find out how parents and children and young people felt about school closures, home-schooling and returning to school during the Covid-19 pandemic,” she added. 

The survey found that the vast majority believe strongly in the emotional and social benefit of children being in school but are worried about the effect school closures have had on their children.

Over 90% of parents believe it is important for their children to return to school for their emotional and social development, and mental health wellbeing. They are also concerned about further impacts of social distancing, or lack thereof, in schools, and have expressed anxieties around Covid-19.

The survey, which was conducted earlier in July, found parents were united in their frustration with the lack of clarity or information coming from Government.

“We are now calling on the government to outline how they are going to ensure the implementation of this plan in all schools and offer the required supports to roll out this plan,” Connolly added.

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Financial pressures

The survey also found the pressures of paying for children’s education have not gone away. While costs have largely remained static since last year, parents reported the weight of the costs is still a lot to bear.

Two in five primary school parents and half of secondary school parents say they have to cut back, avoid paying other bills or borrow money to pay for their child’s education.

A secondary school parent told the study: “The cost is a very heavy burden as only my husband is working and I am not receiving any benefits as I am unable to work for mental health reasons. There is no money for activities to do in the summer. We do without a lot to send them to school. We do feel like the working poor.”

The basic cost of sending a child to school in 2020, while slightly decreasing for parents of primary school children, remains substantial – the average cost of the basics needed for a senior infants pupil is €330; a fourth class pupil is €365 and a first-year pupil is €735.

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