Only three per cent of Northern Ireland parents are unhappy with their children returning to school this term.
The result, taken from a recent survey* carried out by Ni4Kids magazine, also revealed that almost half were ‘happy’ to see the children make their return to school with another 10 per cent feeling ‘confident’. The survey also revealed that 73 per cent of parents had no concerns, or were only slightly concerned, about their children returning to the classroom again.
These findings revealed a stark contrast to media reports from GB which have indicated that a large percentage of parents and carers are unhappy about the return to fulltime education this September. However, Northern Ireland parents and carers have confirmed that they, and the kids, are happy and hopeful of life after lockdown now that the new school year is well under way – but nevertheless the majority would like to see a bigger focus on mental health and wellbeing from schools, rather than on missed schoolwork.
The overwhelming majority of parents and carers (89%) were confident that they had received adequate information and reassurance from their child’s school about how they will safely operate the new school day under the guidelines from The Department of Education. While almost two out of three parents (64%) did say that they believed that the safety guideline changes in school due to COVID would cost them extra expense as a parent – with just over a quarter of parents (26%) estimating that amount at between an additional £10-£20 a month – the good news is that 73 per cent of parents had no concerns, or were only slightly concerned, about their children returning to the classroom again.
And while it was very evenly balanced when it came to how the children felt about the start of the new school term (with 45 per cent of parents saying that their child had expressed concerns to them but 55 per cent had not) over two thirds of respondents to the survey (68%) said that their child was either very confident, or confident, about their return to school.
For the children who did express fears about going back their biggest concern was:
COVID-19 (either personal safety about becoming ill or bringing it home to a family member) which accounted for 44 per cent, while almost a quarter (23%) wanted to stay at home as they were ‘out of the routine’ of going to school, a fifth (20%) were worried about catching up on schoolwork, and for 17 per cent it was separation anxiety i.e. missing a sibling or a parent.
Speaking about the research findings, Education Minister Peter Weir said: “I welcome this survey by Ni4kids which provides a useful insight into the feelings of parents around the return of schools.
I am pleased to see that most parents are positive about the return of children to the classroom. I am also pleased to see that an overwhelming majority of parents and carers feel they received sufficient information from schools about arrangements for return. This is a credit to our principals, school leaders, teachers and staff who have worked so hard to get schools ready for the new term.
I recognise the concerns that have been highlighted around the impact of the disruption on children and young people, particularly in terms of learning loss and well-being. The return of children to school has clear and important educational benefits and is essential for children’s education and wellbeing”.
Koulla Yiasouma, Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, added:
“Generally, schools have risen to the challenge and have been amazing at putting new processes in place. I would echo parents’ concerns about children’s mental health and wellbeing and have called for these to be made priorities rather than catching up on missed school work. Children and their parents have raised many issues such as possible separation anxiety and having to stay in class bubbles separate from friends demonstrating the importance of continuing on-going dialogue with children so that any worries can be listened to, addressed and eliminated as far as possible to make sure children can fully access their right to an education.”
Gary Hamilton, Managing Director of The Family Media Group commented: “It’s an encouraging and broadly positive story that emerges from this research at a time when so much negative news has surrounded the return to school for children. Our readers appear to be a fairly resilient group of people and by and large, seem to be ‘getting on with it’. They do have concerns, undoubtedly, but it seems to be measured. I have no doubt this is due in large part to the great effort schools have made to make the return to school for children, as safe and as ‘normal’ as possible.”
Nadia Duncan, editor of Ni4kids said: “As a parent with a child at both primary and post-primary school, I too have concerns about what this new school year will hold in store for all of us in terms of the huge challenges now faced by schools with the responsibility of limiting the spread of infection while still delivering, not only an excellent academic education but also a high level of pastoral care to their pupils in these difficult times. However, from our research it does seem clear that despite their understandable concerns, parents here are overwhelmingly supportive of our children returning to the classroom and happy that the school gates are open once more.”
Change can take a bit of getting used to at any age, but the parents who responded to our survey said that they felt that the biggest new rules for their child to get used to would be:
- Having to stay in a class bubble (58%)
- Restrictions on what can now be brought into school (18%)
- A new start / or finish time (10%)
- A lack of access to school resources e.g. library books and toys (9%) and
- Seeing teachers and staff wearing a face covering (5%).
One of the biggest concerns of all that has arisen out of lockdown and the pandemic was the closure of schools and the switch to home schooling, and what that means for our children’s long-term education. When parents across Northern Ireland were asked, “How much do you believe that your child’s education has suffered because of lockdown?” 14 per cent of parents believe ‘not at all’, 38 per cent think it might be ‘somewhat behind’, 28 per cent ‘aren’t sure’ at this point, while 20 per cent of parents do believe that their children’s education has suffered ‘greatly’. Over two-thirds (70%) of all respondents though are confident that their child will catch up on any schoolwork missed because of lockdown this academic year and when asked: “Do you believe that the summer term missed of school this year will have a long-term detrimental effect on your child’s education?”, the majority said no (45%) while one third (33%) were unsure and 21 per cent thought that yes it would.
Another area of concern widely reported in the media among teachers, parents and concerned third parties (such as children’s charities) was the effect of lockdown on children’s mental health and wellbeing. Fifty nine per cent of parents in Northern Ireland said that they had ‘no concerns’ about this issue, however 41 per cent said that they did and almost three quarters (74%) of all the parents who responded to our survey said that if their child’s school offered additional mental health or wellbeing classes they would like them to attend. Sixty per cent of parents also said they would like to see more focus from schools on mental health and wellbeing than on missed schoolwork.
Children losing touch with friends was another worry for parents during lockdown and the new protective class bubbles at school have resulted in some friends now no longer being together (37% of parents confirmed that their child has now been separated from a friend). Overall 46 per cent of parents and carers thought that friendships had been ‘somewhat’ affected, 13 per cent thought that they had been ‘greatly’ affected, 7 per cent weren’t sure but approximately one third (34%) did not believe that the long months of lockdown had affected their children’s friendships at all.
Children no longer being able to ‘share’ anything with classmates is yet another aspect of the new safety guidelines which is a cause of concern as parents are particularly worried (especially with younger children) that they will lose this social skill and revert to the toddler stage stance of ‘everything is MINE!’. The results were quite evenly balanced with 35 per cent of parents agreeing that their child’s social skills will suffer as a result of now no longer being able to share resources with other children in school, (with a further 8% thinking this would be ‘greatly’ but 38 per cent believed, ‘no, not at all’ and a fifth, 20 per cent were unsure. Regarding other new school rules that children are adapting to, 59 per cent of parents do not think that primary-school-aged children should have to wear a face covering on school transport.
Around one third of all respondents to the survey confirmed that they had a child in P7 who would be taking the post-primary transfer tests in January 2021. When asked, “How concerned are you that your child’s performance will have been affected by the loss of teaching time due to lockdown?”, two in five (40%) admitted that that they were either ‘extremely’ or very ‘concerned’ while almost the same amount, 37 per cent said they had no concerns.
The change of the transfer test date also prompted many additional comments from parents such as, “My biggest concern has been the postponing of the Transfer Test. I worry about burn out and how to keep my child motivated.”; “Why can P7 students not be treated like every other student doing exams in a pandemic, schools’ predictive grades should be the way forward for transfer tests” ; and, “My major concern is the proceeding with transfer tests in spite of the obvious ongoing disruption and high levels of virus in the community.”
Some additional comments received were: “Teachers are doing an amazing job in getting on with teaching in these challenging times”; “I believe schools are doing their best to ensure our kids are safe and happy”; “My children’s schools have both worked diligently to create safe spaces in which the children can learn and thrive” and “I believe that keeping schools open is paramount, not only for education but for children’s welfare and mental wellbeing. This virus is going nowhere so we need to learn to operate safely with it and help those who are vulnerable protect themselves.”
If you do have any concerns over your child’s return to school advice, support and guidance is available from:
Parentline NI Free local helpline Tel: 0808 8020 400
Chat online: www.ci-ni.org.uk
Action For Children Tel: 02890 460 500 www.actionforchildren.org.uk/northernireland
For children: Childline Tel: 0800 1111 www.childline.org.uk
Notes to editor
*Research carried out by Ni4kids Ltd between 7-14 September 2020.
**Total number of adult respondents living in Northern Ireland – 1026
***Family Media Group publishes Ni4kids Magazine in N. Ireland, the highest-read family magazine in NI (Kantar Omnibus Survey 2018) as well as Scotland4kids Magazine and a number of associated digital and social media platforms.
For more information or to arrange an interview contact: Anita Cooley firstname.lastname@example.org 07540929885