A total of 1,473 parents and 121 children and young people participated in Barnardos’ annual Back to School Survey, which took place during June and July 2021. The survey responses showed that while children are largely looking forward to returning to school in September, the majority of parents still have concerns about their children’s development, in particular educational, emotional and social. In addition, the survey results highlight the level of adversity families faced over the past twelve months, including increased mental health issues, financial concerns, isolation and lack of social support.
Suzanne Connolly, Barnardos CEO, said: “Last year our survey evolved to reflect the difficult circumstances in which parents and school pupils found themselves in the context of Covid-19. This year there is an additional focus on parents’ concerns about the overall development of their children, the impact of home schooling and the adversities families as a whole faced over the past twelve months. ‘Our survey found parents and children are generally feeling positive about going back to school in September. However, parents have concerns about their children’s emotional, educational and social progress and as a result, the majority believe their children will need some form of additional support. Unfortunately, 49% of parents are concerned about whether or not their children will be able to access the necessary support.”
‘My child suffers terribly with anxiety & doesn’t like to leave the house for anything! It’s like ww3 to go for a walk! On returning to school last April, his anxiety was manifesting in physical.’ (Secondary School Parent, Barnardos Back to School Survey 2021)
Ms. Connolly continued: “We are calling on the government to publish promised plans to address the additional educational support needs of children. Schools should be provided the autonomy and flexibility to respond effectively to the individual level of need among children in their school and determine the support required. These plans need to be communicated to parents to help ease their concerns and focus on those most impacted by the pandemic and home schooling and those who faced educational disadvantage before lockdown.”
‘The lockdown children have special needs now too. The environment wasn’t conducive to learning it just helped them not go backwards. Extra time in school is needed to recover social, educational & personal skills.’ (Primary School Parent, Barnardos Back to School Survey 2021)
Key findings from this year’s survey:
- 41% of children feel happy about returning to school, 17% are excited, 14% are worried, 8% are sad and the remaining 20% don’t care.
- 74% of parents believe their children are ready to move into the next year of school. Despite this, over 60% of primary school parents and almost 70% of secondary school parents said they were concerned about the educational development of their child.
- 23% of parents of primary school children and 9% of secondary school children said their children spent less than an hour a day learning last year.
- Over 30% of parents stated they are concerned about children’s behaviour and their ability to follow school rules and structure when returning to the classroom. 21% of primary school parents and 33% of secondary school parents said they were concerned their children may not want to return to school.
- 63% of parents said they were worried about their children’s emotional development while 53% of primary school parents and 64% of secondary school parents were worried about anxiety.
- 51% of parents stated they are concerned about their children’s social skills and 58% of secondary school parents and 47% of primary school parents were concerned about their child’s loneliness.
- 63% of primary school parents and 73% of secondary school parents stated that their children will need support on returning to school. 49% of parents are not confident that these support needs will be met on return to school.
- 52% of parents said that their families had experienced mental health difficulties over the past twelve months, 50% reported tensions at home, 54% experienced financial concerns, 59% felt isolated and 48% stated they lacked social support. 29% of parents felt that these difficulties have had a negative impact on their child.
- Over 50% of parents said they were concerned about the cost of returning to school. One third of all parents said that meeting costs this year will be made more difficult as a result of Covid. About 20% of parents take out some form of loan to pay for school costs.
- 52% of primary school parents and 65% of secondary school parents said the costs of uniforms had increased. 53% of primary school parents and 48% of secondary school parents said the cost of their child’s books had increased since last year.
In addition to concerns for their children, findings show that parents and their families faced increased adversity and difficulties over the past year, particularly those facing disadvantage such as lone parents and unemployed parents. A substantial proportion are concerned that these adversities may have had an impact on their children.
‘Children adapt but they also soak everything in like little sponges. They see and hear everything at home, even when we try our best to shelter them from adult conversations etc. Then they carry this with them on top of their worries & the covid anxiety’ (Primary School Parent, Barnardos Back to School Survey 2021)
Costs remain a considerable concern for many parents who will continue to struggle to meet them this September, particularly given the impact of Covid-19. There are a range of steps the government must take to better guarantee the right to free education for all.
‘Our education system is way too expensive, the back to school allowance definitely doesn’t even half cover the expenses of primary school kids, even with a book rental scheme. I dread this time of year even more than I dread Christmas time.’ (Primary School Parent, Barnardos Back to School Survey 2021). He will have to return to school with a uniform that has stains as I can’t afford to buy a new one’ (Primary School Parent, Barnardos Back to School Survey 2021). ‘Financially I’m barely making ends meet on a weekly basis and now I have to think about new uniforms books book rental lunches’ (Primary School Parent, Barnardos Back to School Survey 2021).
It is clear that children and families are in need of support. It is now time for the government to show its commitment to providing that additional support in order to help children and families to fully recover and progress once again.
For support or guidance, Barnardos professionally staffed Parent Supportline is available Monday-Friday from 10am-2pm on 1800 910 123.