I thought the process of getting them into the right schools was difficult, but it was nothing compared with the decision that now lies before me about schools reopening on 1 June. And the hardest part is – there’s no right decision. Whichever way you play it, you risk something – whether it’s the structured school education they could be having, or the second-wave spread of the virus.
Parents, teachers, governors and children: we are all in such an awful position. Schools are safe to reopen, apparently – because of “The Science” – but there’s no track and trace, no vaccine, and no imminent sign of either. I’m not going to drag the politics of this sorry mess into the argument, but it’s safe to say I think it could all have been handled better – and has been, in a number of other more blessed countries around the world.
However, we are here, faced with sending back some of the youngest members of our school community into an environment that bears next to no resemblance to the one they knew before. These littlest ones are the members of our society who love a good poke around in their noses, who cough to great distances, and for whom handwashing is no more than an inconvenience, to be balefully resented. All this might just be my son, of course.
But these are the members of our society who take the greatest comfort from the near presence of their trusted adults; who live for the thought of playing with their friends; who love nothing more than getting stuck in with sand, play dough, dressing up, cuddly toys, and all the other fabulous features of the infant school years that can’t be cleaned every hour.
They are also the members of our society who most need the structure that schools reopening will give them; the familiarity, friendships, socialisation, education from those who are qualified to give it; regular physical exercise; and someone to watch out for the warning signs that something may not be right at home.
There are things to gain and lose from either choice, and we are currently weighing up what’s on each side of those scales. We’ve also talked to our boys about it. We’ve discussed what they miss most about school, and what school will be like when they go back – they won’t necessarily be with their friends, and learning will be a different experience. We’ve asked them to think about what they would prefer to do, and those answers will be some of the weightiest considerations we use in our decision.
We go back to school: we have the worry every day that they may contract the virus, and bring it home to the rest of us. But we also get back a routine of going out to school for them, in surroundings they know, and an education from the people we chose when we sent them to these schools in the first place. I can start to build my business again.
We stay at home: they miss their friends, their social education, and homeschool continues to the best of my ability, with my work happening in much-reduced hours around their education. But our risk of exposure to the virus remains as low as we’ve been able to keep it so far, and we don’t ask our children to adapt, yet again, to another new way of learning that is far removed from the school they want to return to.
We have a choice. Not everyone does – and every family is different, with matters to consider that outside observers may know nothing about. It’s such an emotional decision, and it’s one that is causing a lot of stress and division between parents online. The one thing I want to preserve throughout this is respect for whatever any of my fellow parents decides to do. However strongly I may feel about the decision we end up making, I never want to judge someone else for doing the opposite. As with so much else in life, we just cannot know what is best for someone else’s family.
I also want to recognise our teachers, in our boys’ schools and up and down the land, who have stayed at the forefront of this since it started. They’ve been in there, teaching the children of key workers like themselves, in the circumstances which will now need to be adopted for every child who returns to school. They have and will always have our children’s best interests at heart.
Whatever any of us decides about schools reopening, there will be hard days and easy days ahead – and days when we wonder if we chose well at all. On those days, I want to remember that there was no right decision in any of this.