An Aberdeen family has opened up about the ‘nightmare’ of school closures after strikes caused disruption to schools across the north-east.
Father-of-five Gary Barr told The P&J about midnight meltdowns and childcare struggles as his son Scott, seven, who has additional support needs (ASN), struggled with the change of routine.
He said the short notice of the strikes came as a “shock to the system” for the family, who had to call on extended family for help.
Closures affected schools on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday last week.
This after Unison, the largest union representing non-teaching school staff, rejected a pay rise offer of 5.5%.
Scott, who has a three-year-old sister and one-year-old brother, attends the ASN wing at Mile End School. He has ADHD and is on the autism spectrum.
‘He was in tears, begging to be taken to school’
“I can honestly say it was a nightmare,” said Gary, with the schools finally back open.
“He found it extremely difficult to adjust to being off school for so long, particularly after the long summer holidays.
“And he found it even harder once he saw children at different schools go back earlier than his school did.
“Unexpected days off from school and last-minute changes to his routine are extremely difficult for Scott to cope with.
“So when the staff at his school went on strike it was emotionally distressing for him as he didn’t understand what was happening and why.
“He didn’t sleep at all during the strikes. In his head, he just did not understand anything that was happening.
“He was having a lot more meltdowns and emotional episodes where he was in tears and begging to be taken to school.
“His behaviour took a turn for the worse and we had to ask family to step in to help defuse the situation.
“My daughter, who is three, had to stay with family members.
“And our one-year-old son was distressed due to all the upset in the house, and he didn’t get much sleep.”
Short notice closures gave family no time to react
The worst aspect of the strikes for Gary and his family was the short notice they were given to react.
Gary and Hannah were only told on the Monday that the school would be closing the next day. Then the following days, they didn’t receive confirmation the school would be closed until the afternoon before.
“I personally think that in future, if they are going to strike, they could plan things out a bit better for the sake of special needs children so that families have the chance to sit down and have a talk with their kids. That way it isn’t such a shock to the system when it happens.”
‘They need to put the education and welfare of children first’
While the strikes and subsequent school closures left the family reeling, Gary did praise school staff and thinks they should be paid what they deserve.
But he says Unison had shown “absolutely no second thought” for the kids involved and the effect school closures have on them.
“I am absolutely all for the staff members at schools getting paid what they deserve.
“But I really do think they need to put the education and welfare of the children first.
“Children from all backgrounds get caught up in school closures. Some have difficult home backgrounds and come to school for support. For others, their school lunch is the only proper meal they get.
“I know all children were affected by the strikes. But from a personal point of view, they really didn’t consider how special needs children in particular would be affected.
“They need a steady, consistent routine each day. It affects the whole family. The situation we were left in wasn’t fair on any level.
“As much as my family do love and respect all the work the special needs schools give to children, we would appreciate a bit more support when it comes to the whole striking issue.
“At the end of the day, it’s our children who are left to deal with the fall-out.”
Unison was contacted for comment.
An Aberdeen City Council spokesman said: “We wouldn’t wish to comment on a matter addressed to one of our unions.”