School closures: how parents can keep calm and carry on with work

Government measures designed to stop the spread of COVID-19 will see all state schools in the UK close to most students from Friday. What are the options for working parents?

People with caring responsibilities have legal protections, including reasonable time off to deal with emergencies and unpaid parental leaveYet the government’s measures to stem the spread COVID-19 are encouraging more employers to ask as many employees as possible to work from home. Flexibility and compromise are going to be key to ensure employers and employees are able to work productively, manage their childcare responsibilities and their own personal wellbeing.

Tips for working from home during school closures

For people able to work from home, it’s important to find out what the non-negotiables are.Sodexho Exchange, an employee engagement platform, advises working parents to consult their employers’ latest work-from-home policy, then check they have the equipment, internet connection and space to work from home. Make sure any specialist systems can be accessed from home too.Regular phone or video contact with colleagues can help reduce feelings of isolation.

Wellbeing and working from home

Remote working while being responsible for younger and older family members is often not readily compatible with productivity and wellbeing.Be realistic about when you can be available and remember to build in time for yourself. Jonathan Ratcliffe of Offices UK, a national provider of serviced offices and flexible workspaces, says: ““The first thing you need to do is lower your expectations of what you are going to achieve, both with work and schooling. If you try to do too much the experience is going to be highly stressful.”His advice is to:
  • lower your expectations of what you will achieve with work
  • simplify your day into a set routine
  • don’t try and achieve too much
  • pause and try and appreciate moments with your kids.

What if I can’t work from home?

But what if you aren’t able to work from home; there is no space, reliable broadband or phone connection? Or your children need more care and attention during the working day, jeopardising work?The government advises you to discuss your situation with your employer. It expects most employers and employees should be able “to reach a sensible compromise and come to a solution that best meets both parties’ needs, bearing in mind the latest public health advice.”Responding to the statement by Education Secretary Gavin Williamson about COVID-19 and school closures earlier today, Matthew Fell, CBI Chief UK Policy Director, called on the government to step in and provide additional support for working parents. “Today’s announcement on school closures feels necessary, but of course will present challenges for parents and carers. Businesses will do all they can to help their employees in these unprecedented times.“Companies will make every effort to offer flexible working, but many parents simply won’t be able to do their jobs and care for their children at the same time. With so many businesses already struggling with cashflow, government will urgently need to step in with additional support to employees who are unable to work because of school closures.”

Emergency childcare

Importantly, the government has asked parents to not leave younger family members in the care of their grandparents to help protect vulnerable age groups. Emergency registered daycare, including childminders, could be an option if everyone in your family is symptom-free.

Keep up to date with the latest COVID-19 developments here

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