Eleventh hour schools shutdown 

NN Journal speaks to teachers and parents about school closures

By Natalie Bloomer

After spending the weekend reassuring the public that schools were safe, Boris Johnson last night announced that they will be shut until February half-term except for vulnerable children and those of key workers. 

Speaking directly to the country yesterday evening, the prime minister said that all primary and secondary schools will move to remote learning for most children and that some exams will no longer go ahead this summer.

As the situation surrounding schools escalated over the weekend and into the start of this week NN Journal has been in regular contact with a number of teachers and parents in the county about their feelings over the ever-changing situation. 

Speaking shortly after the prime minister’s announcement last night, one primary school head teacher spoke of their frustration at the way things have been handled.

“This is so hastily put in place and shows the complete lack of respect that Boris Johnson has for the teaching profession. I’m currently staffing a key worker group with less than 12 hours notice - angry is what I am.” 

To add to the chaos, some local schools were reporting that Parent Mail, a system used by many schools to communicate with parents, crashed last night meaning they were forced to post messages about arrangements for closures on social media. 

“I still haven’t heard anything from my school telling me what I should do tomorrow,” one Northants teacher said last night.

“How are they supposed to sort it all out by the morning? Many of my colleagues are relieved that they have done this but there is a huge amount of planning that now needs to happen at very short notice. Those poor kids have been back at school for one day and now they’re out again.”

Other schools were sending communications after 10pm informing parents of the hastily pulled together arrangements and how to get back to home learning.

Cllr Jane Birch, the shadow cabinet member for children's services in Northamptonshire and a former teacher told NN Journal she has huge concerns for children's mental health.

"I feel desperately sorry for all the pupils who have been misled and let down by all of this mixed messaging,” she said. 

“It is heart-breaking and I imagine there have been a lot of tears shed. Many were looking forward to going back and seeing their friends again and it will be the social isolation that is a problem for them - I do worry about their mental health. The government has got to start thinking about the impact this is having. And there will be parents and families who are trying to home school via a phone and by sharing equipment. Many are struggling too much already because of the effects of the pandemic.

“My daughter-in-law is a head teacher of a primary and she has said she has given up trying to predict what the government will do. I don't know what the answer is but the constantly changing messaging is not going to help our children."

The move comes after pressure grew on the government to keep schools closed. On Saturday, the National Education Union (NEU) called on all primary schools to move to remote learning for the first two weeks of term for all children except those who are vulnerable or are children of key workers. That was supported by other unions including Unison, the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) and the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT).

By Sunday night, a significant number of teaching staff in the county began to write to their head teachers to inform them that they did not feel safe to return to the classroom. This led to 14 primary schools in Northampton announcing they wouldn’t be reopening this week and at least six others across the county doing the same. 

Parents in the county have had a mixed response to the news.

“I agree that they should be closed,” one parent of a primary school child said. “I don’t want my son to go back until the vaccinations start to bring down the number of cases. If keeping our children out of school will help to keep our loved ones alive then it is a price worth paying.” 

However, others expressed frustration at the mixed messages from the government.

“Boris was on TV just this morning saying that schools are safe so we all thought they would be keeping them open,” one  Northants parent said after the prime minister’s announcement. 

“I now have my eldest daughter in tears because she is worried about her GCSEs which she was set to take this year and my youngest daughter worried about whether she will be at school tomorrow or not as I am a key worker. It’s all so unsettling for the children.”

The government has said that extra support will be provided to help families that rely on free school meals or need additional computer devices for home schooling.

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