29 September 2020
The Back to School study aimed to explore the attitudes of school staff, and parents and young people about returning to secondary school in Bristol after school closures due to COVID-19. The project was designed to help schools and local authorities decide on the best approach to reopening, to balance reducing the risk of COVID-19 with the need for young people to return to school. The study’s rapid results report (PDF) has just been published. However, this project was not without its challenges, which lead researcher Ava Lorenc reflects on here.
The world of COVID-19 moves quickly, so the Back to School study had to be really fast-paced. Project funding was confirmed at the end of June, and by the end of August I had conducted 32 interviews with 51 people! This was an intense period of data collection, which I managed to squeeze in alongside having both my own children at home during school closures and summer holidays. But it was worth it, as it was vital that we captured how people were feeling before the schools re-opened, and got our findings out to the key stakeholders as soon as possible.
Expecting schools to take part just as they were closing up for the summer holidays was a big ask, and in the first few weeks I was nervous we wouldn’t recruit the numbers we needed. However, once word of the study got out, I managed to recruit 13 staff from seven different schools. Many staff appreciated the opportunity to talk about how they were feeling, and express their frustrations about the difficult situation schools are in.
Another challenge we faced was that one of the key areas we wanted to explore was the experience of families from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds and those living in deprived areas of Bristol. These groups are not only more at risk from Covid-19, but also may have been disproportionately affected by school closure, through limited space, and lack of access to resources, internet, computers, and free school meals.
Our initial attempts at recruiting families via schools resulted in almost all middle-class white families volunteering. We decided to try a different approach, working in collaboration with community organisations serving some of the most diverse and deprived areas of Bristol and using social media.
We are very grateful to:
These organisations helped us to access different communities, with over half of our final sample of 20 families having a Black, Asian or minority ethnic child or parent. Many of these families were concerned that their additional risk from COVID-19 hadn’t been properly considered by schools and the government, so I am pleased we managed to capture these viewpoints.
I would like to take the opportunity to thank all the parents, students, teachers and others who participated in this research. It has been a whirlwind, but exciting, and I hope the results are useful to schools and more widely. Our final rapid report is now published, and we are busy preparing a paper for submission to a public health journal.