Sarah has three kids, who were 3, 6 and 7 at the start of the lockdowns and are now 4, 7 and 9. Her husband works from home.
One of the main reasons the family began homeschooling was because they lived in a bubble with Sarah’s mum. Grandma is 74; her age leaves her clinically vulnerable to covid and she has an underlying health condition. Although she has been double-vaccinated, the family wants to keep being cautious as vaccine immunity is waning and transmission very high across the country.
What has been your children’s biggest day-to-day challenge?
Being different whilst not wanting to be the same. The children are happy they’re at home, feel lucky they’ve avoided the school chaos but miss their pre-Covid lives. Obviously, for the littlest one, it’s just how things are. She fits in happily with our family routine.
How do your children feel?
As a family, we try to keep active and focus on the positives. We’ve tidied the garage up and put in a running machine. The children often talk about things they wouldn’t have had without Covid, like new friends they’ve made over Zoom through the #SafeEdFamily.
They’re happy but frustrated that the government are doing nothing to make schools safe. They understand the benefits of masks and would happily wear them to school.
The quality of available masks has improved overtime so we do more – we are all frustrated that this does not extend to school-based education.
We haven’t made them aware of the prevalence of Long Covid in children but have a friend suffering from the condition, which they’re sad about.
How was your relationship with the school before the pandemic?
It was positive, and we were very happy. The boys LOVED their school so much. They received glowing reports about what good role models they were and how kind they were to others. My eldest would often be picked to help other children who were struggling. But when we needed the school, that all changed.
What did you want from the school?
We needed the flexibility to remote school the kids to protect our family, especially my mum, from Covid. We also didn’t want the risk of anyone else in the family ending up with Long Covid. Besides anti-bac and handwash, the schools had no protection against Covid. This is an environment that we wouldn’t dream of entering as unvaccinated adults!
How did your school support you?
They told us that we had to send or deregister; they recommended some workbooks, and lots of reading but otherwise said they couldn’t help. They suggested they’d already helped too much with those tips! They started legal action against us when we didn’t comply and remove ourselves from roll. It was like a blow to the body to see how readily and easily they tried to get rid of us. It felt like we were a problem that needed resolving before we could rock the boat.
Were you able to discuss any options with the school?
No, the headteacher insisted he had no discretion to authorise remote schooling for us. I knew that couldn’t be right – every child matters after all. An outdated saying, but what about safeguarding?! I couldn’t believe that they wouldn’t even discuss the impacts on my children and my concerns.
What about safeguarding? Did you seek help from any other agencies?
I phoned the local authority. I was sure, with my background as a teacher and law graduate, that somebody would help. But I was told that the only way to have the best interests of my children considered was to “have my day” in court, and that I’d probably lose.
I was also told that prison, fines, ankle tags, prison records were all potential outcomes. They also felt imminent. My husband and I could have potentially lost our professional qualifications. The threats came thick and fast.
I tried to explain that we were shielding my vulnerable mum. I talked about the mental health impacts on my boys, who worried about bringing Covid home or splitting up the bubble we’d been living in since June. But I was simply told they could fine my mum too.
I approached my doctor about the mental health impacts. She was lovely but couldn’t put much in writing. Such was the fear the establishment managed to extend to our doctors because nobody was allowed to actually admit you could be infected via schools.
What made you finally decide to deregister your children?
When the PILC briefing determined that school absences could be granted at headteachers’ discretion, the school stopped speaking to me. They changed their line to, “We’re just following local authority advice.” The local authority said they wouldn’t be threatening fines and prison if it wasn’t what the headteacher wanted. It was impossible!
And these threats continued into April 2021, before mum was fully vaccinated, including that of 3 months in prison and/or a £2,500 fine before Christmas. The fact dawned on me, a school that threatened fines and prison for parents working hard to remotely educate their children, wasn’t a school we loved anymore and wasn’t a school we could trust again. By this time, the school were providing work – we completed EVERYTHING. I sent 30-page word documents every week for both boys, full of photos of their work and activities.
How did these threats affect your lives?
By this time, Delta was on the scene, as were the warnings from abroad that it affected kids worse. I was waking at 4.30am every morning with a racing heart, worried about legal action. My husband was stressed as the threats stood against him too. My mother was upset about me having to go to court. I often felt zoned-out mentally after writing email after email in my defence.
In the end, why did you decide to deregister your children?
We felt we had no choice. It feels as though we were forced off-roll to keep attendance stats up and stop others from asking for the same consideration. In September, I was told there were three families with concerns. By April, the school admitted there were dozens.
So, very reluctantly, we withdrew them from school. We now have uncertainty about my eldest’s secondary school place and whether we will get local school places when we want them.
What is your outlook going forward?
In many ways, they’ve done us a favour. We’re off on holiday now. We’ve found a remote field and a caravan near the sea and are visiting grandparents. We aren’t tied to school term dates, so we started school in mid-August to enjoy time away when places are quieter!
I’m essentially following the National Curriculum, as we hope to be able to return our children to school. But we have more freedom to explore their interests. Take last week, I planned to do poetry, but they wanted to write a play, I could go with it. The resources available online are amazing.
Furthermore, I provided reams and reams of evidence of their work when remote educating on school roll. I scanned/took photos and sent everything into school; the teachers spoke favourably about the boys’ progress. I no longer have to find two or three hours a week to do that. The work is all still happening, but I’m not having to prove it.
What top three changes would you like to see the government make in schools?
Mitigate so schools are as safe as possible. If schools were safe, there’d be no need to threaten with fines and prison. I fought off deregistering for so long because we want to be on-roll and go to school. But we’ve been bullied off.
Provide remote education options. It would be extra work, but equally, there is a lot in place now. We’ve had a whole year of schools needing work ready for possible isolations, and Oak Academy is set up. If you look abroad, plenty of countries offer this option. As a country, why are we bullying people and destroying parent-school relationships? Who benefits?
Invest in children’s mental health services. Mental health has been used as a bargaining chip. Schools and routines are good for children’s mental health but not for all children, all the time. We need a more inclusive system. Take Covid out of the equation, and some children need blended learning. The way I’ve been treated has opened my eyes to how many people have been treated pre-Covid. It seems if you don’t fit, you get pushed out with threats of fines and prison.
What would you like to ask our politicians?
So many questions!
What is the strategy with schools, Boris Johnson? Why did you remove masks from secondary aged children as cases increased as lockdown eased? What do you know about Covid that we don’t?
Tens of thousands more families than usual have deregistered. How many were bullied off? It is unlawful to encourage families off roll, how is the current situation okay? Laws to deter term time holidays are being used to bully people into unnecessary risk taking in a pandemic. It couldn’t be more wrong.
You were saying “let the bodies pile high”, while I was saying I don’t want to send my children in and risk transmission to my mother. It’s twisted.
Fortunately, not as many children die, but some do and every death is an avoidable tragedy. 1,153 children were admitted to hospital with covid in July, and five children died. Five avoidable tragedies and how many children have ended up with Long Covid? How many fatal transmissions into the home or to vulnerable relatives?
And why have you seemingly started blocking the release of these numbers? I didn’t get a response to my freedom of information request re removals from roll.
How can you claim that you’re acting in the best interests of children when the choice is to accept covid as an inevitability or remove your children from the school roll? There are no mitigations.
“I just can’t comprehend what’s happening.”
In September 2020, Jenny Harries said, your child is more likely to get hit by a bus than catch Covid at school. Then in January 2021, Boris Johnson said, schools “act as vectors of transmission.”
Yet, the UK government are still forcing children into perfect breeding grounds for Covid even though children suffer Long Covid at the same rate as adults. If you want to keep your family safe, and you don’t win in the headteacher lottery, you’re given no choice but to deregister your children or face constant legal threats.
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