Last week was a funny old week. I was phenomenally busy as I prepared for the start of the weirdest of school summer holidays. It was also the week that my eldest child’s primary school days formally came to end…for the second time in four months.
Needless to say, the threat of COVID-19 meant plans for the last day were completely re-organised. There was a leavers’ assembly, but it was held in a marquee with the sides left open and parents could not attend. There was no leavers’ church service and the last set of formal school photographs that were taken several months ago are yet to emerge because all the photography studio’s staff have been furloughed.
Nonetheless, the teachers did the best they could under the restrictive Government guidance that remains in place. The children undertook a socially distanced walk from the school grounds to a nearby park.
Us mums and dads had been secretly asked to line the route. As the children passed, we clapped and cheered. This was followed by absolute mayhem in the park for a couple of hours as the kids burned off steam and played as a year group for one last time.
It was a small way to mark the end of their primary education, but it was supremely successful. The sun shone, the kids played and the parents reminisced about the past and chatted about the future. It was certainly a more significant celebration than when the schools were closed on Friday, 20, March.
On that occasion, having only had two days’ notice, the teachers arranged for the children to watch a film during the afternoon. They all bought onesies to change into and during what we thought were there final few hours of primary education, us parents were sent regular Class Dojo messages telling us what our kids were up to. The tone of the messages made it clear the teachers were feeling very emotional.
I don’t mind admitting I shed a tear or two as I read those Class Dojo messages. It wasn’t what the end of school was meant to be like. As if to prove the point, the Year 6 kids came out of school at the end of the day in virtual silence to be met by parents who were totally confused and didn’t know how to react.
Imagine a bunch of school kids reacting to a sudden school closure in silence? It was really strange.
And yet the schools had closed and SATS had been cancelled. For the Year 6 group of 2020, I felt the right thing was to look to the future. I thought the onus was now on us mums and dads to prepare our offspring for the start of secondary school.
At that point in time, I saw no value in Year 6 children returning. I was very worried about the impact and how the pupils would react should the schools reopen. I thought it would be confusing and didn’t think it was the right thing for them to return to school only to leave again in July.
I was wrong. I was very wrong indeed. When it was announced the schools would reopen to priority year groups in June, Helen was among the pupils to return. It was absolutely the right thing for her to do.
Sure, it came with a risk, but she needed the social contact. By that point Mrs Adams and I felt there was a balance to be struck between the risks to her physical health and her emotional and mental health.
It wasn’t a pleasant decision to make, but she needed the structure and she needed time out of the house. She needed the reminder of how school worked and she has benefited from having some lessons about what to expect at secondary school.
As soon as Helen was back in the classroom, there was an immediate impact on Izzy, Helen’s younger sister. She instantly became demotivated. Whereas previously she had been very keen to get on with her online learning, she now had to be persuaded to get on her laptop.
Izzy was also very upset at the fact her sister was getting to see her friends, albeit in socially distanced bubbles. I really did feel for her and made efforts to see if I could get her into the keyworker school provision. It had been undersubscribed so I thought we may be in with a chance but after the summer half term it seems everybody had the same idea. By that point it was oversubscribed and there was no space left for Izzy.
Even though Helen benefited from being back at school, I can’t tell you the final few weeks were easy. Helen’s experienced a few friendship issues. I’m not saying Helen caused them, but she has been caught up in them. I think it’s simply that some children have struggled with lockdown or have parents not giving them the required attention because they’re stretched beyond their limits homeschooling while working from home. It’s perfectly understandable some youngsters struggled with the return to school.
Added to that, there have been various activities and things to do as we prepare for the end of term, the beginning of the holidays and also prepare Helen for her transition to secondary school. To quote notorious Government enforcer Malcolm Tucker form The Thick of It, my ‘to do’ list has been “longer than a Leonard Cohen song.”
It’s been odd. After three months of having absolutely nothing in the diary the family calendar has been very full over recent weeks.
Thankfully the holidays have now begun. There’s a camping trip in the diary plus a visit to Wales. I’m looking forward to some real quality time with the kids, not a board game squeezed in between some work commitment and a homeschooling task.
Shortly before I wrote this, I thought back and tried to recall my last day at primary school. Rather sadly, I have absolutely no recollection of it whatsoever. If there’s one thing I can say with certainty, it’s that Helen will not forget her calamitous final days at primary school. It’s been the most insane time. I just hope the move to secondary school goes much more smoothly.