After being closed since January as part of the third lockdown, classrooms reopened for England’s 8.89 million pupils on 8th March. Primary schools returned on that day, with secondary schools staggered over the first week.
This marked the first part of the government’s road map to ease us out of lockdown.
For many, the schools returning marked an end to the balance of home-schooling and working, it meant many parents would be able to resume their normal working hours and return from furlough – and also marked a positive step for the UK’s return to normality.
In a bid to further reduce infections and detect asymptomatic cases, all secondary school children – and families/households of all school children, can now be tested twice a week with lateral flow tests. These tests give a result within 30 minutes and are anticipated to pick up on cases that would otherwise have gone undetected.
For many businesses, as an HR specialist, we welcome the reassurance that any parents who have school-age children can be tested twice weekly, which may bring extra benefits for your business in that many asymptomatic cases will be detected.
Employers should be mindful of the need for flexible working
Employers need to be mindful that the months ahead may not provide the traditional 9-3 school day that we are used to. Classes still work in bubbles, meaning that there will be 10 day isolation periods should there be positive cases within classes or groups. This may mean parents need to retain some flexibility to be able to keep children home in the event of class or school closures. In addition to that, the increase in testing will ultimately result in an increase in detected cases – this will mean isolation periods will remain in place for some time yet. Furlough and flexible furlough remain in place until end September, so that hopefully will ease the burden over this period of time.
Even with schools and childcare facilities officially open, many forms of usual childcare may still not be available. Restrictions remain in place around the numbers of people who can meet up for another few months yet. Some family members, grandparents or other relatives may not be comfortable to provide childcare until they are fully vaccinated. For individuals who may have been shielding for the past year, the return to normality may take some time and adjustment.
What will flexible working look like in the future?
Many parents will be eager to get back to their normal working hours now schools have returned – however the last year has given many people an insight into a flexible way of working that previously they may never have considered.
A recent study by People Management of 1,000 parents found that working parents are overwhelmingly in favour of being able to continue with flexible hours and hybrid working. However, over half of parents fear that their employers will cease to be flexible going forward, with 40% fearing job security when the furlough scheme ends.
Increased flexibility was quoted by 55% of respondents as something that would increase loyalty to their employer – with staff quoting that they would feel more valued if their employer recognised the challenges of balancing factors such as work, childcare, and caring for elderly relatives.
All in all, things are certainly looking up in terms of the return to normality, the vaccination programme and the return to schools and work. However, employers need to continue to be flexible for a while longer – remembering that the situation has been unprecedented and the effects of the last year are likely to have taken their toll (in terms of physical wellbeing and mental health) on many employees.