With the return to school just weeks away, a new survey has found that half of parents are worried about this, while around one in five would prefer if their child was not going back to reduce their risk of contracting COVID-19.
Every year, Barnardos carries out a 'Back to School' survey, which usually focuses on the costs associated with returning to school. However this year, the survey also looked at how parents and students felt about school closures, home-schooling and the return to school during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Schools closed their doors on March 12 of this year and have not been open since.
"Our findings are clear - of the 1,765 parent respondents, the vast majority believe strongly in the emotional and social benefit of children being in school, and are worried about the effect school closures have had on their children.
"Over 90% of parents believe it is important for their children to return to school for their emotional and social development, and mental health wellbeing," explained Barnardos CEO, Suzanne Connolly.
However, 50% of the parents of primary school pupils and 53% of the parents of secondary school pupils are worried about the return to school. Furthermore, 16% of primary school parents and 21% of secondary school parents would prefer if their child was not returning to reduce their risk of contracting the virus.
Some 73% of primary school parents and 65% of secondary school parents felt they had insufficient information about their child's return to school and what the day would look like. However, the survey was carried out prior to the publication of the Government's roadmap for the reopening of schools, which was published on July 27.
The survey also found that the majority of parents found balancing work and home-schooling difficult, while over a quarter felt that they did not receive enough support from their child's school.
Meanwhile, the problem of school-related costs has not gone away. According to the findings, the basic cost of sending a child to school in 2020, while slightly decreasing for parents of primary school children, remains substantial.
The average cost of sending a senior infants pupil to school is €330. This rises to €365 for a 4th class pupil and €735 for a 1st year pupil.
Some 41% of primary school parents and 50% of secondary school parents say they are planning to cut back on other costs, not pay bills, or take out loans to cover their back-to-school costs.
Of those who have to take out loans, 31% are getting them from a credit union or bank, 29% are using credit cards and 27% are borrowing from family or friends. Worryingly, 13% are borrowing from a money lender.
The survey was also carried out among 255 school goers. While some enjoyed aspects of being at home during the pandemic, many found learning from home a challenge.
"I can't wait (to go back) but I am worried because I missed so much and I am doing the Junior Cert this year. We don't have good wifi so I found it very hard to do my work," one pupil said.
When it came to having their parents as a teacher, half loved it, but 65% said they did not enjoy trying to learn with their siblings.
Some 27% said they did not have enough time on a computer, tablet or phone to do their work.
The survey also found that many have mixed feelings about returning to school, while around 20% feel negatively about it.
Some 60% are worried about COVID-19 when they think of returning to school.
"It is welcome that the Government's plan to reopen schools include comprehensive measures to support children and young people's mental health and wellbeing, but it is imperative these plans are implemented swiftly," Ms Connolly said.
Barnardos has made a number of recommnedations in relation to both COVID-19 and the costs associated with returning to school. These include:
-Provide clear implementation guidelines and timelines to schools to accompany the roadmap for reopening schools and the wellbeing guidance document to ensure a coherent response across the school system and give clarity to parents
-Provide additional learning supports, such as individual and small group tutoring, for children from disadvantaged backgrounds to bridge the educational inequality divides which may have emerged during school closures
-Uphold a child's constitutional right to free primary education by committing in Budget 2021 to invest an extra €103.2 million annually to reduce the cost of books, voluntary contributions, classroom resources and transport for parents. This can be phased over the lifetime of the Government, beginning with expansion of the free school book programme in the 2021/2022 school year.
The full report on the findings can be viewed here. More information on the Government's roadmap for reopening schools can be viewed here.
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