Teachers hear all kinds of excuses when pupils have failed to complete their homework on time.
However, there’s one excuse they probably won’t ever hear: when young people are so busy caring for family at home they don’t have time to complete school work.
It’s something they tend to hide from friends too, as young carers at Peele Community College at Long Sutton admit.
Peele Young Carers was formed three years ago when the school’s non-teaching pastoral team picked up that some children were doing anything from housework and cooking to personal care. It’s coordinated by head of house Theresa Earl in liaison with young carers’ organisation Spurgeons.
Theresa says: “I think for some children it’s quite a private thing and they don’t like to talk about it. For some it might involved quite a lot of personal care. It’s a bit taboo, and a lot will struggle with course work because of the chores they have to do.”
Out of a school of 600, there are around 30 young carers who get together over a fortnightly lunch, or enjoy free activity and experience days, all with the support of parents, who are still raving about the Christmas meal planned for them in school.
Ellen Debney (15) says it was only when she started going to the group that she realised how much extra work she does compared to the average young person.
Helping her disabled sister was “just routine”, but she began to find the extra load difficult as she approached GCSEs. The meetings and activities give her “a bit of time out” and the acknowledgement that “I am not just doing homework, but that I have other stuff to do”.
What came as a surprise was that some of her best friends were also in the group, yet they had never discussed their caring roles.
Boys too act as carers, though not as often as girls, but Jarred Dean (14) says he grew up being a carer to his dad. It’s a role he regards as a “moral responsibility”, though he admits it means he doesn’t have time to do 50 per cent of his homework.
Previously, that could lead to difficulties with teaching staff – in the same way that 13-year-old Tiegan Butcher once got into trouble for not having her cooking ingredients when her mum went to see Tiegan’s dad in hospital.
However, Theresa says there is now an unwritten rule among teaching staff who are aware of which pupils are also carers – and the cookery teacher now sources ingredients herself if there is a problem for any of the carer students, the money coming out of budget.
“That can be another issue,” says Theresa. “It’s not just time, but being able to afford it. It’s about communication and I have to say I am really pleased they have taken this on board.”