I run a Facebook group for mums and dads in my home town of Bath and each week the posts and comments offer up a reliable barometer of parents’ opinion. Our 7,000+ members are supportive and positive but this week the mood in the group turned to frustration.
Concerns over government Covid guidelines for schools being out-of-date has been growing for a while. But with ‘freedom day’ delayed and a number of longed-for school events cancelled, the news that 60,000 fans would be allowed to attend Euro 2020 football matches hosted at Wembley seemed to be the final straw for many parents.
“You can’t watch your child’s sports day but hordes of footy fans can go to a stadium with people from all over the world,” said Annalise, mum of two primary school girls. “It’s bonkers and the school rules need to be updated.”
Next month it’s also expected that Silverstone will welcome a capacity crowd of 140,000 for the British Grand Prix and, while large sporting events get the green light to ‘test’ how coronavirus spreads, sports days with children who have been in bubbles for over a year and end of term parties are still not allowed.
Frustratingly for many schools and parents, the Association for Physical Education confirmed it would be able to support staff with risk assessments for Covid-safe sports days to go ahead but this only came following the Prime Minister's briefing on 14th June which was too late for many schools who already made the decision to cancel events.
It’s not just school events that are being missed either. New statistics have revealed that up to 170,000 school aged children are currently self isolating across the UK due to coming in to close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus. Children are missing school. Despite the low risk posed to children and the fact that more than 3 out of 5 adults are now fully vaccinated, the government’s advice is still that should a child come in contact with someone with coronavirus, they should stay away from school for 10 days. There are renewed calls for a policy change due to the ‘detrimental affect’ on children of self-isolation and new questions are being raised over whether children should still need to self-isolate at this point in the vaccine rollout programme.
We know from our hyper local group in Bath that nearly every school in the city has at least one year group bubble closed due to a positive case, despite there currently being only 2 people in our city’s hospital with coronavirus.
Jen is currently self-isolating along with her twin sons in Year 9 at a local secondary school and she’s had enough:
“It’s becoming increasingly hard to not feel angry because there doesn’t seem to be any consistency about who can do what. The rules are really unclear and yet my family and I are expected to put our lives on hold with one call from the boys’ school. I’ve been so on board with everything but complying to inconsistent rules is starting to wear thin.”
Jess, mum of twin teenagers, Bath
Confusion levels are at an all-time high for families who have already seen two academic years disrupted with remote learning, lost social interaction and missed opportunities for children and young people.
Parents can go out for lunch, sit near complete strangers in the pub and stand maskless on the sidelines at a Sunday football game whilst their children mix freely. And yet, at 8.45am every morning and 3pm every afternoon, they have to don their mask to stand 2 meters apart from, often their closest friends, in the open air in the school playground.
Our children continue to be confined to one way systems, virtual assemblies and are unable to interact with friends outside of their bubbles all day, but once that bell goes at 3pm they are free to go trampolining indoors with children from other schools or enjoy a family meal out with few of these controls.
Tonya, who has 4 children aged between 2 years and 15 years says, "At school, kids still have to only socialise in their year bubbles, yet at home they can play with their siblings who are in different bubbles and maybe even different schools. It makes no sense!"
The government are quite simply not connecting the success of the vaccination programme to updating guidance for schools. The world inside and outside the school gates is completely different.
Headteachers across the country are fervently sticking to the rules, creating complex working environments for their staff and conducting intensive risk assessments for transition days.
It’s desperately sad that our children who are starting a new school in September can’t meet their new teachers or visit their new classrooms. It happened last year; and we coped. But this year feels very different. Footballs fans are gathering in pubs but a socially distanced egg and spoon race is a complete no-no.
“I’ve just had my daughter’s birthday party cancelled because the venue won’t allow fifteen children who go to the same school together to socialise inside. But last week I was allowed to dress up and go to Ascot with 4,000 other people who I have never met,” says Katy, a regular contributor.
If the vaccination programme is the success it is being heralded as, we don’t need to close classrooms down every five seconds. We certainly don’t do this when someone has flu or chicken pox despite their potentially deadly consequences to the vulnerable across the population.
So when is the approach to coronavirus rules in school going to change? We simply cannot continue to disrupt our children’s lives in this way.