Is back to school brilliant for all?

Suzy Rowland, founder of the #happyinschool project, and author of S.E.N.D. In The Clowns, shares tips for parents of children with special educational needs and disabilities on coping with work and home learning.

Just when you think you couldn’t manage another day of home-learning with your school-aged children, the Government has given the green light for the schools to re-open. You love your children but allow yourself a small air-punch. Priority will be given to children in Reception, Y1 or Y6 while secondary school students can expect some contact with their school after June 15.

After lockdown, this news is welcome for many families, but it does present some worries: is it safe? How am I going to manage after school picks up for one child at school with another one or more, at home? Especially without reliable or affordable childcare? These are difficult and practical issues that won’t go away until lockdown is fully eased, when nurseries and after school clubs are open and when the kids are allowed to stay with their grandparents again. But even when after school clubs are open, they may need to limit numbers, or close at short notice due to nursery workers or teachers being off sick or isolating. We can’t take the grandparent’s health for granted. It’s not possible to plan for every eventuality: my advice is to make a list of the pros and cons for your personal family situation. If you and your child are keen and confident about the return to school, here are a few suggestions that may help:

If you work mainly out of the house:

  1. Now is the ideal time to put in a request to your employer for flexible working. All employees have the legal right to request flexible working. If going back to work means you would struggle to find affordable or safe childcare for your child with additional needs, you have clear reason to put in a request. If your request is approved, you could consider changing your working hours whilst Covid-19 is still a feature in our lives or consider this as a more permanent arrangement. Make sure that you get a renewed contract which details your new working arrangements. If you want a more temporary arrangement, send your boss an email summarising what you’ve discussed, agreed and the timescales.
  2. If you have an arrangement that enables you to be more flexible, be prepared to give and take.
  3. Keep good records of your working time, either on an online system or in a notebook, be aware of any time that you put in to compensate for your unexpected time out with your child and demonstrate this to your employer.
  4. You have a responsibility to your employer and a responsibility as a parent: it’s not an easy balance to strike but strike it you must. Remaining in employment, if possible, is good news for parents of children with additional needs, as you are more likely to avoid poverty and hardship of a reduced income. If your child’s needs are significant, you may wish to review what’s best for your child and the whole family, after the lockdown experience.

Many companies are keen to get back to business, having good staff will help them be competitive. A smart company will want to hold onto you, especially if you’re an asset to the company. Make sure working out of home, works for you too.

If you’re a home worker or stay at home parent:

Having a structure to the week would be great, but not if it means you’re ferrying everyone around and won’t get much more done for yourself, especially if the children are doing shorter days. As a home worker stay at home or lone parent, you may not have the same requirement for regular childcare but getting the children out of the house will definitely help them burn off steam. Would the almost back to school routine make your time at home easier or harder? Take into account that travel, to and from school several times a day, especially on public transport, may expose the whole family to greater risk.

Structuring learning

It’s unrealistic to expect the average mother or father to be able to replicate the knowledge and skills acquired by trained teachers. But there are many tools which can help, even in areas we’re not expert in!

The Department for Education has plenty of online learning resources available, in line with the  For scientific and creative inspiration the National Trust the Science Museum and SEND specialist Chatterpack has compiled a truly epic bundle of online resources to banish any whiffs of boredom. Whatever you decide, you’re doing a great job, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

S.E.N.D. In The Clowns is due for release on September 1st 2020 by Hashtag Press

© Suzy Rowland

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