Voices: It’s been two years since the hell of home education ended – but we haven’t escaped its effects

Yesterday Facebook fed me one of those “Facebook Memories”. It was a picture of a beer on our kitchen counter from precisely two years ago. I’d captioned it: “Home school’s out, motherf*****.”

It brought memories of that extraordinary time flooding back. Could it really be exactly two years since Boris Johnson had come on the radio and announced that schools would be once again opening their gates to their full cohorts? Could it really be two years since I shut my laptop for the last time on the pre-recorded lessons that I was supposed to be guiding my 5-year-old through every afternoon?

How time flies when you’re not locked down in a hell-ish half-life of part-teacher, part-full time wage slave.

As is the way of these things, the memory of home-school under Covid feels very real – like we were doing it yesterday – while also seeming like a hideous bad dream.

What I really thought when Zuckerberg’s awful algorithm decided to taunt me was how weird that time was. It was of course weird for everyone, but our version of weird – which now feels almost other-worldly – included our daughter’s wonderful reception teacher recording lessons every day in a classroom no more than 100 yards from our front door that my wife and I then had to deliver and decipher.

The sad truth is that I was a truly terrible real-life teaching assistant; one who was almost physically incapable of offering the support necessary to turn my daughter’s teacher’s digital wizardry into anything like the learning that she deserved.

I’m ashamed to admit that there were more than a few occasions when we simply gave up. I can still feel the frustration and guilt I felt when I abandoned yet another lesson and instead turned on CBBC.

I am in awe of the work that has gone on since to catch her up: the efforts teachers have gone to to ensure that – as far as we can tell – the many learning gaps that I left have been filled in. She thrives in lessons in a way that I could not have imagined in that bleak second lockdown.

She has also – fingers crossed – fully recovered from missing three months of her friends and her teachers.

This is surely, at least in part, because she was only just at the start of her school career. It is a truism that the younger you are, the more adaptable you are.

Others of course weren’t so lucky – and schools are still struggling to pick up the pieces. Teachers report that many 11 and 12-year-olds moving up to secondary still behave and socialise like they’re at primary – that they’ve literally lost two years of development to Coronavirus.

It is also now pretty much received wisdom in most staffrooms that student behaviour is much much worse than it has been for decades. The reason? That those young people that were early teenagers during the pandemic, and forced into an almost unnatural life of semi-hibernation have lost a hugely important phase of development and are incapable of dealing with it. Youth mental health in this country is now in crisis.

This is the reality of what home-school did to too many children – and underfunded schools are really, badly, struggling to pick up the pieces.

Despite all this, I have almost no doubt that lockdown was a necessary evil. I also feel very sure that it was vital – however awful – to close the schools to most students. Stopping the spread of the bug was the only thing that truly mattered back then. I am not one of those furious types who say “never again” and threaten civil disobedience should another pernicious virus threaten these shores.

But, please God, never again. Kids – and parents – need school.