Back to school: Parents outline concerns ahead of September return

Back to school: Parents outline concerns ahead of September return

Pictured at the launch of the report were Sam Reid and Poppy Deans, both aged eight. Picture: Patrick Bolger

Children are largely happy and excited about returning to school in September and parents feel the same way, even if many have concerns about their child's educational development and their ability to adapt to the challenges of a new school year.

The Barnardos Back-to-School survey paints a picture of parents relieved at the prospect of their children moving on in school, but still dealing with the fallout of the past year.

The survey found that 19% of all parents — and almost a quarter of parents with children in primary school — reported their child spent less than an hour a day engaged in learning activities during lockdown. 

For one-in-five children, not having access to appropriate quiet space and living in cramped and overcrowded conditions was a factor.

Family tension and isolation is also a feature among many of those surveyed, while the often onerous cost of returning to school has not gone away: More than half of parents said this is an issue for them, with one-third of respondents saying meeting those costs this year will be made more difficult as a result of Covid-19. 

Around a fifth of parents take out some form of loan to pay for school costs.

According to one parent: "Financially I'm barely making ends meet on a weekly basis and now I have to think about new uniforms books book rental lunches." 

Another said: "He will have to return to school with a uniform that has stains as I can't afford to buy a new one."

Half of parents (52%) surveyed said their families had experienced mental health difficulties over the past year, while the majority (84%) dealt with increased stress. 

Almost all parents (92%) who reported their children to be on a waiting list for assessment/supports reported higher levels of stress.

Furthermore:

  • 15% of families had to deal with increased substance use;
  • 19% with job loss;
  • Half of parents reported tensions at home, up from 27% of parents in last year's survey;
  • 54% of parents experienced financial concerns, 31% sickness and just over one quarter (26%) a bereavement. 

“We are struggling financially — I’m a single parent and had to give up my car," one parent said. "It’s been a tough year.”

According to the survey: "It is clear that nearly all families faced increased hardship over the past 12 months in some shape or form." 

It said unemployed and lone parents were more likely to have had to deal with adverse situations in the past year and added: "A substantial proportion of parents who faced these difficulties (35% secondary school and 27% primary school) felt that these issues will have a negative impact on their child returning to school." 

As one parent put it: “Hard to support the child when so little to support yourself.”

However, almost 90% parents of primary school children said their children felt positive about going back to school, while just under half (48%) of secondary school parents said their children felt okay about returning in September.

The survey found that 35% of parents believe their children are more anxious about school since Covid-19 closures, while 38% believed their children are actually more excited about returning to school.

As for the children themselves, 41% said they were happy about going back to school, 17% said they were excited, and 20% said they didn’t care. 

"Children spoke about looking forward to going back to school because they felt their 'school is safe', and they would like to 'see [their] new teacher and books'," it said.

Some parents expressed concerns about their children's physical health but were more likely to voice worries about educational development, emotional well-being and mental health.

While 74% of parents believe their children are ready to move into the next year of school and only 12% do not, just over half of parents of children with special educational needs felt that their children are ready for the new school year.

In addition, 63% of parents said they are worried about the educational development of their child and some respondents are so concerned about this that they feel considerable catch-up support is required.

One child said: "I'm worried about not being that good at reading any more. I’m worried because the teacher might ask me a question and I won't know the answer and I'll be embarrassed.” 

One parent said: "My child missed the majority of third class and I feel she is definitely not ready to go on to fifth class in September. She covered fourth class but really struggled and did not do well in end-of-year tests. We feel so guilty that we could not provide educationally for her during the lockdowns."

This theme was also reflected in the 48% of parents reporting to feel confident supporting their child's learning in the home, with only 54% stating they felt they have the knowledge and skills to support their child's learning. 

“Homeschooling placed significant time pressure on us to both work and support schooling for five hours per day," one parent said. "This didn’t help tension at home when both parents are struggling working.”

While 83% of children surveyed said they had the technology and materials necessary to do online lessons/school work, 10% of parents said they still struggled to provide their children with the right technology and access to the internet. 

This was more of an issue in certain groups, such as parents who were unemployed.

The Barnardos’ annual Back-to-School Survey survey was conducted in June and July and 1,473 parents and 121 children and young people took part. 

Most respondents were mothers, 57% were living in an urban area, and two-thirds were working either part- or full-time. 

Just under one fifth (19%) of parents said that their child had special educational needs and over half that group reported their children were on a waiting list for assessment or support.

Half of the parents surveyed (51%) said they are concerned about the cost of returning to school (48% primary school and 58% secondary school). 

According to the survey, 17% of primary school parents and 19% of secondary school parents said they borrowed money to pay for back-to-school costs. 

One-third of all parents said that meeting costs this year will be made more difficult as a result of Covid-19. 

The Barnardos report makes a range of recommendations, including calling for increased mental health supports, and said: "It is clear that a considerable portion of children and families are in substantial need of support. 

"However, not enough has yet been done by the Government to provide or set out a plan for providing additional support, to help children and families as we move further away from lockdown and pandemic restrictions and begin to look to the future."

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