Reopening schools: 'Staff positivity cheered me no end'

Starting primary school in 2020 was, despite all the challenges of coronavirus, 'brilliant' for Esther Black's daughter

Esther Black

Reopening schools: 'Staff positivity cheered me no end'

The heavy rainfall that flooded the classroom the night before my daughter started P1 on Wednesday didn’t faze teachers one iota. By 9am the next morning a makeshift play area in the dining hall was ready so the new pupils could start as planned.

Reopening a school following a pandemic lockdown takes plenty of adaptability and flexibility: a wet floor and a few sodden rugs weren't going to put a spanner in the works. I'm a great believer in finding silver linings no matter what the situation and the staff's perseverance and positivity on that morning cheered me no end. 

The Covid-19 measures for drop-off – no hordes of extended family, parents and carers ushered in and out of the playground swiftly – were also a blessing. Likewise, the low-key ending to her time at nursery – a certificate, a collage of photos and lots of cuddles from staff – was more in line with what I think should be the norm. The fuss that usually surrounds these milestones seems more about what the adults want rather than what is good for our children.


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The calm drop-off on Zoe’s first day followed her "bonus year" at nursery (I don’t like the term "deferral"). Giving her that extra time was one of the best things her dad and I have done for her. Now nearly 6, she is much more confident and articulate than she was 12 months ago. Starting P1 has been all smiles and laughter. "Mummy, school is brilliant!" she said at pick-up.

Coronavirus: Reopening schools after lockdown

We fought for that bonus year, with help from Deferral Support Scotland and Give Them Time, appealing the initial funding refusal and asking our MSP to encourage the council to review our case swiftly. We were well-informed. We had the time and resources to press for what we knew was best for our child.

Now at school, I know Zoe will continue to thrive. The staff are embracing attachment theory and working to embed an understanding of ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) in all that they do. There is a really active parents’ council, and a strong sense of community and belonging (after all, it takes a village to raise a child).

So despite the havoc caused by Covid-19, I've no concerns about my daughter (she’s had a great start to school), no regrets (that bonus year was a good decision), and no dashed expectations (she’s healthy and happy – after the past four months, what more could I want?).

I do, however, feel immense privilege and gratitude. I worry for others. Education is probably the single most reliable route out of poverty and it’s a cruel irony that the children who might benefit most from longer at nursery may not have parents or carers who are able to push for it as we did.

For many families, a "bonus year" at nursery currently won’t be affordable (pending new legislation that will guarantee funding for all "deferrals") and the demands of work mean an earlier start at school is a must. Attainment will be impacted, the poverty cycle will continue.

And despite the challenges of juggling work and parenting over recent months, we’ve treasured the trips to the park and to the beach, the picnics, the baking, the time spent painting and reading stories: time that we didn't expect to have. I'll forever be grateful.

Meanwhile, many children have suffered during lockdown without the care and the safe environment that schools provide. We don't yet know the damage done, but even I have to admit there is no silver lining to be found here. What those children have lost can’t ever be regained.

As the UK sinks into recession and the longer-term impacts of Covid-19 start to unfold, the degree to which we help vulnerable children and young people will speak volumes about our society and about the leaders in our schools, our communities and our parliaments. 

May we work through this together, sustained along the way by silver linings and aiming, always, for no regrets.

Esther Black is a board member of Children in Scotland and writes here in a personal capacity. She is the mother of a P1 girl who started school on Wednesday, in Edinburgh

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Esther Black

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