Lockdown has highlighted the two key roles schools play in society:
- Supporting today’s economy by providing childcare that allows parents to work
- Supporting the future economy by providing children with the skills they will need in tomorrow’s economy
We have to be honest about these two roles. In my experience schools have always denied their role as childcare providers, often refusing to acknowledge that there isn’t a mum sitting at home all day.
Schools are childcare
When schools were closed to most children they remained open to the children of key workers – the country needed those people at work and therefore their children needed to be in school.
We are incredibly fortunate in the UK to have universal education, it is a right. Children are not legally allowed to be in work. But, we also have to face that this means they need to be in education whilst their parents work.
It seems that despite a number of months being childcare providers, now schools are reopening to all any thoughts about providing childcare is out the window.
The economy needs childcare
The lockdown did highlight who the key workers truly are in this country and they weren’t necessarily the people we may have thought they were. I, as everyone is, am grateful they continued to go to work for all of us. The reality is, whilst these people are the key workers in a crisis and continue to be key workers – the economy depends on all of us having the opportunity to work.
What reopening schools really means
On the 23rd June 2020 Boris Johnson made an announcement, schools are to reopen from September to all pupils, attendance would be compulsory and wrap around care is to restart. Nearly a month later and news is slowly coming through that schools will reopen but with shorter days, staggered starts (meaning even shorter days for parents with multiple children) and wrap around providers are still not able to confirm whether or not they will reopen.
Wrap around providers are those running breakfast and after school clubs, they allow parents to work a full day. They rely on picking up groups of children at one time, having to do multiple drop offs and pick ups will increase their costs. Where these providers run on school sites and are best placed to deal with staggered starts the schools are insisting on children remaining in their small bubbles. This means where previously they were running one session, they may now need to run 7 or more separate sessions. These providers currently have staff furloughed, they will only reopen if viable. If they do reopen it’s likely costs will increase significantly and therefore will price many parents out of the market.
The result: people not attending work
The result will be people not able to attend work. Those who previously could work 9 to 3 inside a school day are now limited to 10 to 2. With no wrap around care the 9 to 5 is also reduced to 10 to 2!
It’s OK for those who can work from home, we’ve learnt to work with our children at home and we could bring them home and carry on working. In some circumstances siblings are starting and finishing school 30 minutes apart, the school run which previously took 45 minutes is nearly doubled! It’s not ideal but where parents can continue to work from home there will be ways round.
Working from home simply isn’t possible for many. Now businesses are back open and the furlough scheme is closing, many of those that could accommodate school closures simply won’t be able to work around the new school day.
This will impact business. Parents will not be able to work in the way they did before. Business has to start recognising children and not just see it as a parents problem to solve.
I know the argument, you decided to have children, your problem. There are a few key things to consider, we are already facing ageing populations and global problems as a result of reduced fertility rates, the population will stop growing. We need young people coming into the economy to replace those leaving the economy, we need people paying into the economy to continue providing NHS care and pensions. The reality is we need children, we need tomorrow’s workforce. We also need families with two incomes, when people earn they spend and the economy grows.
Businesses need to recognise the support they can provide to their people, work with them, support them and find solutions. Life never has been simple for working parents, the issue of schools not recognising working parents has long been a problem – right now it has been highlighted and made harder. The laws around time off for dependants and parental leave were made when times were normal, they weren’t made to cope with a pandemic. But, this isn’t about laws, it’s about people. We’ve all been through a tough 2020, as a business leader this is an ideal time to show how you value your workforce and work with them through these challenges.
And my final message to schools – Don’t forget your vital role as childcare providers. You are vital to the economy. Many of your employees are working parents facing the same challenges.
P.S. If you’re wondering about my thoughts on opening point two, I have one or two blogs planned – follow my blog to be the first to read my thoughts on education’s role in developing the skills of the next generation.