Covid: Mixed emotions as pupils return to school across England

3 months ago 19
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By Jeanette Long
BBC News

Parents have been sharing their contrasting emotions as schools in England, Wales and Northern Ireland welcome back pupils for the new term.

Measures to limit the spread of coronavirus - such as masks and social distancing - have been lifted in England, but regular testing remains.

We spoke to one mother who can't wait to send her children back to school, one who is conflicted about the return to the classroom, another who is vowing to keep her children away from school, and a father whose son fears things will never be the same again.

'Children need normality'

image sourceClare Smyth

image captionMum Clare is relieved schools are opening with fewer restrictions

Clare Smyth, from Cambridgeshire, has two young sons in primary school - Seb, 10, and Joshua, who is seven.

She is "overjoyed" that the start of term will see restrictions eased in schools.

"I'm really relieved that our school has decided to stop all social distancing restrictions - bubbles, zones in the playground. But I'm apprehensive for the winter as the season progresses, as to whether the restrictions will return," she says.

"I'm so keen for it not to happen again, but I can't see how it won't with the flu season."

In Scotland, where pupils returned to school in mid-August, Covid cases have risen sharply. Social distancing measures and masks will remain there until at least until the end of September.

This is not the case in England, although places with rising case numbers, such as the South West, require school and college pupils to wear masks in communal areas for the next five weeks.

Clare feels the country has to get back to normal, but thinks it will be a bumpy road. She also worries about the amount of learning children have lost because of the pandemic.

"Children need a return to normality considering they're at very low risk from the virus," she adds.

"I don't think schools should close again. They need it for social interaction and obviously, for the academic side as well."

'Hung out to dry'

image sourceStephanie Salgardo

image captionMum Stephanie is concerned about ventilation in schools

Stephanie Salgado, from Essex, has three children aged between four months and six years old.

She feels "very conflicted" about their return to school.

Ventilation in particular is a big concern as her son is asthmatic.

"There are no real mitigations in primary schools and no preventative measures. That's why I'm so conflicted," she says.

"It feels like primary schools are being hung out to dry."

She is aware the government has just announced it will provide carbon dioxide monitors for schools to detect poor ventilation, but points out that these don't actually make a difference to the air-flow.

She believes school safety policies need to be "more preventative and less reactive".

"If we just had better ventilation in classrooms, it would improve children's general wellbeing, because we have so many winter illnesses. Every other week, kids are off with some illness."

The Department for Education has published a list of measures schools in England can consider, including having classes and assemblies outside and improving ventilation indoors.

Despite her concerns, Stephanie says her children's school is great and she will send them back, unless anything significant changes.

'Nothing between children and Covid-19'

image sourceLisa Diaz

image captionMum Lisa will not be sending her children back to school

Lisa Diaz's children Alex, 11, and eight-year-old Helena have not been into their Wigan primary school for more than a year after she pulled them out 10 days before the first lockdown.

She says she is so angry and worried about the lack of safety measures in place this term that they won't be returning, even though she has been threatened with fines or even prison.

Lisa has a genetic blood disorder which makes her particularly concerned that when schools reopen "there will be nothing between our children and Covid-19".

Lisa says she was "devastated" by the choice.

"I'm not saying it's an easy decision. I fully empathise with parents up and down the country."

She worries about the impact of missing school.

"Of course it's important for the children to go to school. Of course it's important for them to socialise and see their friends."

But she is also fearful about the possible health effects on children, although studies show they are much less likely to get seriously ill.

Lisa would like to see many more safety measures in schools, such as masks and social distancing.

She says: "Make no mistake, it's going to be really very bad and it's entirely preventable."

'We can't keep living our lives like this'

image sourcePete Campion

image captionPete says son Luke fears things won't be back to normal this term

Pete Campion, from Warwickshire, says that while his 15-year-old son Luke is excited to get back to school to see his friends, the teenager fears things won't be the same.

"He wants to get back to normal but he is apprehensive about draconian rules like not being able to mingle or run around in the playground because of Covid," says Pete.

"That's what he is worried about, whether things will go back to normal."

Even if he tests negative for coronavirus, Luke won't be returning to school full-time until 9 September.

"I understand why we need to do that, we've still got Covid [in society], but we can't keep living our lives like this, with kids being pushed from pillar to post - he's already going back a week late."

Going forward, Pete thinks Covid-19 tests should be used "when people are ill or feeling poorly".

"My son has to shove that thing up his nose every week - they aren't adults, they are kids and I think we forget that."

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