‘They saved us’: how English schools support students during Covid-19

A few days after seven-year-old Maya’s grandmother died at the peak of the coronavirus outbreak in the UK, she asked her mother, Selda Beyzade, to open her window. When her mother asked why, she answered: “Anne told me that when she goes, she’ll be in heaven – and if I open the window I can talk to her in the sky.”

Maya and her 10-year-old brother Ediz are now preparing to go back to school, and more than anything, the family are just hoping they can start getting back to some kind of normality.

“I’m not really worried because we are going to be doing the same things, I’m looking forward to seeing everyone,” Maya says on one of the last days of her summer holidays. “When [the lockdown] stopped every class had a picnic and all the people who were isolating were allowed to come. Not everyone came but lots of them, and we played some games and because we didn’t finish reading the the Roald Dahl book we had been reading, our teacher read it to us.” Her friends, she says, will look after her: they all look after each other.

Her brother Ediz, is perhaps feeling a little more anxious – but more about the fact he is entering into year six and has SATs ahead of him.

“It feels kind of weird because everyone has been at home and we haven’t seen each other for a while,” he says. “But we’ve been on Zoom and playing games and quizzes and board games also some of my friends came to play outside. I’m really looking forward to seeing my friends.”

According to Ediz’s mother, he has developed an obsession with the way Germany has dealt with the crisis, and an interest in statistics. “I get angry with the people who don’t take it seriously,” he says. “Some countries are going into second lockdown and it could last for years and years.”

As children of key workers, both Maya and Ediz have already been back at Bounds Green school, north London, and Beyzade says they have been overwhelmed by the love and support they have received.

Beyzade’s mother, Samime, 79, became ill with coronavirus towards the end of March, her father was also ill and the children developed fevers. But despite excellent care at home – both Beyzade’s husband and brother-in-law are doctors – Samime’s condition worsened and she had to be taken into hospital. No family visits were allowed and – at that early stage of the crisis – no video contact was available. She died a week later.

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In the days and weeks that followed, the school, says Beyzade, rescued them: “My husband is a GP, but school reached out to us because they knew what we were going through,” she says. “So they went in three days a week, to give them a bit of normality.”

Her middle son, 9-year-old Adem, goes to a special school, but as he had been at Bounds Green previously the school offered to care for him so he could be with his siblings, before he then went back to his own school. “The school completely saved us really,” she says. “We had a lot to deal with and they were there for us and the children.”

The children’s commissioner has called for grieving children to be given access to counselling and mental health support in school, but Beyzade, who runs Singalong with Selda and was a primary school teacher for two decades, says she believes this support should be available in all schools, and not just for grieving children. “The school has been so nurturing that I really think they will be looked after, the kids will be on their radar and we’ve had excellent communication with them.”

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