This article first appeared in the Premier Youth and Children’s Work Magazine Schools Work in May 2020
The Impact of Covid19 on Schools Workers
As I write this we are nearly 3 weeks into the most severe restrictions placed upon the general public by the UK government since World War 2. For some it’s been longer because of sickness or illness in their house, or due to having NHS frontline workers in the home.
There is no precedent for this in the UK, there are no threats of military invasion, no soldiers currently roam our streets, and yet:
Non-essential shops and businesses have been forced to close
Limited number of people are allowed inside supermarkets because of physical distancing so there are lines of shoppers waiting outside
Panic buying means there are limited groceries on the supermarket shelves
Parks, swimming pools and other centres of entertainment are closed
Concerts, festivals and other events – cancelled
Weddings, family celebrations, holiday gatherings – cancelled
Funerals cannot be attended by family or loved ones
No socialising outside of your own homes
No church services are permitted – some UK cathedrals have opened their buildings to the local Health Trust to be used as hospital wards
Schools have closed
Fuel prices have dropped a record amount
Shortage of personal protective equipment for those who really need it
Essential service workers are terrified to go to work
Medical workers are terrified to go home to their families
Charities fear for their long term future despite the announcement of a ‘furlough’ arrangement which means that all businesses can apply for a grant to cover 80% of workers’ salaries
This list is by no means exhaustive but it bears repeating: these are truly extraordinary times. We are all impacted by this, in many different ways. What is the impact for those who volunteer in their local school?
On first glance this seems like a question about how our schools workers are faring on furlough. Some of them certainly will be off work for a variety of reasons including childcare, having a partner who’s an essential worker, and possibly even sickness within the home. It might be that the organisation you work for has put you on furlough because that makes the most financial sense right now. For some that will be hard because it’s the first time there’s been an extended time off work with no expected return date, and without it being a holiday or have some purpose. Or it’s simply hard because we’re in a global pandemic and we can hardly lift a finger without being reminded of this on the news or by the restraints on what we can and can’t do.
I asked a few schools workers to let me know what they were doing at the moment and the responses varied widely. One is home-schooling her primary-age children and also organising online meetings for those young people whose parental contact details were already on file. She said that although she is very worried about a handful of young people who they had regular contact with but very casually, who she knows will be struggling with having to be at home so much of the time, she is also grateful to see the resilience of some of the groups, they get more contact with the parents than they do during regular school-based practice and the young people have continued to build relationships during the online sessions. It’s worth remembering that young people now are very much digital natives – for them, it’s not about moving everything to an online space, it’s about growing the online space they already inhabit. Another contact also highlighted this, along with the issue of being unable to ‘meet’ young people in their own spaces like Tiktok and Snapchat (a note here to say that despite the age restrictions on many social media platforms young children are still signing up to these in large numbers, which in itself is concerning!) because of safeguarding concerns. We do need to have good safeguarding in place of course, and if it is necessary to minimise risk by not engaging on these platforms then that’s important. On the other hand, our young people use these sites all the time, for it to be a space devoid of good positive material created and curated by trustworthy youth workers seems rather counter-intuitive.
Another contact who is still working for her charity organisation has found it a struggle to change from being in school to providing resources for young people to engage with online, her comments reflected on the importance of school as the framework for having contact with young people, whoever they are, whether they fully engage with the schools groups or not.
One of the key things which stood out to me in these conversations was the need for organisations to figure out what is it that they do and why do they do it. Now is not the time to simply add to the flood of material being made available, no need to feel pressurised to produce slick, beautiful YouTube material because we cannot compete with Joe Wicks and the like. We only need to be there for our young people and children, it is the how we do that which has changed dramatically!
One comment that came through strongly is that broadly speaking those working with young people and children have not kept ahead or on top of the curve when it comes to technology, we have not figured out yet how to engage on platforms such as TikTok and we have not got to grips with how to engage young people and children online. One of the ways to future-proof our work in these times is to learn where online supports and compliments offline: is there something you’ve put in place to keep your team connected that has worked really well that could continue? Could you use technology to become more inclusive than previously? Perhaps you are creating good social media content that is being accessed by the young people or children you have been working with, it would be great to hear from you!