School closures ‘He’s not getting up until one o’clock’
“I’m worried about a lack of motivation – he’s not getting up until one o’clock.”
Many parents across the UK will empathise with mother-of three Louise, who is worried her teenage son is becoming disengaged from his studies, as schools remain closed due to Covid-19.
“It’s hard enough motivating a lazy 17-year-old boy who doesn’t really care much about school in normal times,” says Louise.
When schools were closed two weeks before the Easter holidays, few parents were expecting the home school scenario to go on for more than a few weeks.
While there is a possibility that some, if not all, primary school year groups in England may go back before the long summer holidays, this is unlikely to be the case in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
And it’s becoming clear that secondary schools (apart from “some face-to-face contact” with teachers for Year 10 and 12 pupils in England) will remain shut until September or even later – but nobody really knows.
Louise, who did not want us to use her full name, says she’s worried that not being in school for such a long time will mean some pupils lose interest and give up.
“These children, they’re losing any motivation, so when they do go back to school, I don’t think they’re really going to care.
“They need the interaction with the teacher, a bit more more than, ‘Here’s a worksheet’.
“I’m worried my son’s not going to bother doing any work now before his A-levels next year and frankly, he’s having a nice time, he’s exercising lots, playing video games, so why would he start working again?”
“It’s very difficult for parents to get their children to knuckle down sometimes,” says Rebecca Poole, head teacher of Hampton High in south-west London.
“But it’s important not to panic. I would say that if it’s creating unbearable conflict at home, don’t force it.
“As teachers, we will do our best to repair the damage to learning, the important thing is children’s wellbeing and safety.
“Families should hear that, they shouldn’t tie themselves in knots – we’re in this for a long schlep.”
Carl Ward, head teacher of Haywood Academy in Stoke-on-Trent, says parents should never feel reluctant to contact the school if learning at home is not going well.
“My number one piece of advice would be to contact the school, speak to the staff and then students’ needs can be looked at.
“Invoke your right as a parent and ask the school for more work, less work, better work or advice – they’re there to help you.”
He also says schools are sharing best practice and are working hard to improve the online delivery of lessons.
‘Back with their friends’
But it’s not just the educational side of schools being closed that is having an impact on children and young people, the social side of growing up is also curtailed.
Mother-of-four Trish Jones told the BBC that her three secondary-school-age children are keen to get back to school and see their friends.
“They thought there was a glimmer of hope they’d go back to school before the summer, but when they realised that that wasn’t going to be happening, they were gutted, really gutted.
“For them it was the chance to be back with their friends, back to the usual routine in the company of their friends.”
Trish also worries that teenagers aren’t getting the freedom and privacy they need to develop their independence.
“It’s unbelievable really that we’ve got all these teenagers stuck at home.”
Louise says her 17-year-old is losing out on the positive aspects of mingling with his peers.
“He’s decided that he doesn’t want to go to university, which may have happened anyway, but I think if he was at school surrounded by his peers, who are clever boys, he’d be pulled along by them.
“But because he’s isolated at home, he’s not getting his peer influence – he’s got clever, motivated friends who’re a good influence, but now he’s not seeing them.”
Prof Chris Boyle, educational psychologist at Exeter University’s Graduate School of Education, says all is not lost because young people are highly connected online.
“They’re not totally disconnected because they’re continually connected online, so it might strengthen their friendships because they can interact in a different way.”
Prof Boyle suggests children and young people try to “enjoy the space” that school closures bring and use it as a period of reflection.
“We could consider this as an opportunity for teenagers to reflect where they’re at – with their friends, where they’re going in life, what they want from life, what their priorities are.
“There is hope, there’s potential for society to reset itself, for example, in terms of the environment, in terms of looking out for our neighbours.”
Head teacher Carl Ward, who’s been a teacher for 27 years, says it’s important never to underestimate the ability of children and young people to recover from difficulties.
“I’m always astounded by children’s ability to bounce back,” he says.
“The quicker we can get them back into the normal swing of things, the better, but it’s not the end of the world that they’ve lost some time.
“They’ll be guided and pushed by teachers when they’re back in school to make up for that lost time.”