Why I became a parent school governor during lockdown

A father of two special needs children said he became a parent school governor during the latest lockdown because he is in despair at the way staff and children are being treated.

Crispin Watkins from Monmouthshire said although three to seven year-olds can start to return to classrooms from February 22 the lack of a date for older children going back is causing worry and stress.

Children and teenagers have lost a year of education “to varying degrees” because of school closures and governments need to urgently address the effect of lockdown on a generation, he believes.

The businessman and former steelworks manager became a parent governor of Caldicot School this term while the school, along with all others across Wales, is shut for a second time thanks to covid.

His 13 year-old son attends the school’s Learning Centre for pupils with extra needs while his eight year-old daughter attends Archbishop Rowan Williams Church in Wales Primary in Crickhowell.

Mr Watkins said staff at both schools have been “fantastic” throughout the disruption but government needs to allow all pupils back as soon as possible after half term and education unions across the UK must stop “politicising covid”.

Caldicot School
(Image: Matthew Horwood)

His son has autism and his daughter has emotional needs, which has made learning at home hard.

Mr Watkins said there was never a better time to become a school governor and more parents should consider it. Schools often struggle to recruit governors and parents needed to step up, he said.

He said: “They sent out a governor vacancy form and I wanted to give something back to the community.

“I was a steel works manager working in risk, recruitment training and statistics. I run my own business now. I thought that would be helpful for a school governing body at the moment.

“I am interested in helping. I think sometimes the bigger picture has been lost during the covid pandemic and we need to think more about the psychological impact of all this on teachers and children.

“I would like our political leaders to give us a sense now of how this evolves and ends.

“I am grown up enough to know that there won’t be a date for the end of lockdown, but I think we could be given more information and more information should be shared about how and why they make the decisions they do. And what about teachers? When do teachers get a rest from this?”

Pupils in Caldicot School before the pandemic
(Image: Matthew Horwood)

Mr Watkins believes children who need to should be allowed to repeat the school year.

He said: “The teachers and staff at my children’s schools have been fantastic. They are working flat out teaching in multiple modes.

“But I think some of the unions have politicised covid. That’s not helpful and I am not hearing that from individual teachers.”

Mr Watkins hopes to use his voice as a parent governor to express the pressure on parents and children learning from home.

“Society is going to have to accept the reality that this year is like no other and this generation has lost a year in school and a year of education, to varying degrees. That’s just the reality.

“The mental health impact of not seeing friends and not being able to play or play in groups is also huge.

“I think Wales is being overly cautious about schools being open from what I can see. More could have been done sooner. I think it would be nice to see the beginnings of secondary school children back after half term.

“We have met all the criteria for hospital rates and infections coming down. I think the government could now give a best intention date to get all children back.”

Referring to warnings from the Deputy Chief Medical Officer that disruption could continue into the autumn, Mr Watkins said: “If they really don’t think things will be back to normal in schools by September then they need to think about transformational change for education.”

He stressed his son’s teachers had worked hard but the teenager had managed no more than a couple of days learning in the last year because of his autism.

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“If my son has done more than a few days school work this year it’s a miracle. The head of the school specialist base he attends says a majority of those in the centre can’t learn effectively at home. For someone like my son with autism then home is home and school is school and you don’t do schoolwork at home.

“My daughter has been climbing the walls. Attempts at class meetings online have just distressed her. Children are in a rhythm of not being at school now and it’s not healthy.

“My son has stood still. He has lost a year. My daughter has struggled. For them it has essentially been a lost year. My daughter had beautiful hand writing but that has changed.”

Mr Watkins praised his children’s schools for their work and communication in the last year but said he felt patience was running out generally with the government for keeping classrooms shut without a clear plan for how the effect of that will be addressed in future years.

This lack of vision and hope made hard work hard for pupils as well as their teachers, he said.

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