New £55m Southampton cruise terminal set to open in 2021

A new £55m cruise terminal is set to open in the port of Southampton, despite the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the travel industry.

The facility being built will let suitably-equipped ships plug in to a local power supply while in port, rather than using onboard generators.

Much of the cruise industry worldwide has been shut down since March.

Associated British Ports (ABP) said its opening – sometime next year – would be a “vote of confidence” in the port.

Built in partnership with MSC Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd, it will be the port’s fifth terminal for cruise passengers.

It received a grant of £8m from the Government’s Getting Building Fund.

Environmental campaigners have previously criticised the cruise industry for contributing to the problem of air pollution.

The ships have huge power demands, and to power on-board facilities such as lights and water treatment plants, they tend to run their engines 24/7 while moored up in ports such as Southampton.

ABP said the new terminal would have “Shore Power connectivity” allowing ships with the right onboard technology to “plug-in” while in port.

Alastair Welch, director of ABP Southampton, said: “We’re very pleased to announce this major advance in our cruise infrastructure at the port, delivering further access to Southampton for the industry, whilst supporting our commitment to accelerate improvements in local air quality.”

No date has been given for its opening which ABP said would be in time for the “2021 cruise season”.

Robert Courts MP, Minister for Maritime at the Department for Transport, said: “As we continue to support the cruise sector in its restart and recovery, it’s great to see government funding being used to help deliver better services for passengers.

“This next-generation facility also showcases to ports around the world how we’re pioneering the use of green technology.”

Cruise ship operator Carnival shed 450 jobs from its offices in Southampton earlier this year.

Some companies have made a limited return since voyages were suspended when the pandemic hit, though Cunard and P&O are not due to resume sailing until spring 2021.

By Paul Clifton, transport correspondent, BBC South

This is a very bold statement about the future of cruising given that Southampton hasn’t seen a single cruise passenger since last Spring.

The industry expects a return to normality to take several years.

But this is an investment for the long-term. Before the pandemic, the average age of cruise passengers was getting younger, with families increasingly choosing this type of holiday.

Southampton is banking on it not only recovering, but growing far into the future.

The plug-in shore-side power for Southampton is also a big deal – a UK first.

Only a handful of ports offer it worldwide, as cruise ships consume a huge amount of power; enough to put a strain on the surrounding area.

Most new cruise ships are being equipped with the ability to plug in, turning off their huge engines in port to reduce pollution.

Meghan Markle: Duchess of Sussex tells of miscarriage pain and grief

The Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, has revealed she had a miscarriage in July, writing in an article of feeling “an almost unbearable grief”.

“I knew, as I clutched my firstborn child, that I was losing my second,” Meghan said in a piece for the New York Times.

Meghan and Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, had their first child, Archie, on 6 May 2019.

Meghan wrote that “loss and pain have plagued every one of us in 2020”.

She said in a morning in July this year, she felt a “sharp cramp” and hours later, from a hospital bed, watched “my husband’s heart break as he tried to hold the shattered pieces of mine”.

Meghan, 39, shared her experience to urge people to “commit to asking others, ‘are you OK?'” over the Thanksgiving holiday in the US.

The duke and duchess moved to California to live away from the media spotlight, after stepping back as senior royals in January.

“Losing a child means carrying an almost unbearable grief, experienced by many but talked about by few,” the duchess wrote in her article.

“In the pain of our loss, my husband and I discovered that in a room of 100 women, 10 to 20 of them will have suffered from miscarriage.

“Yet despite the staggering commonality of this pain, the conversation remains taboo, riddled with (unwarranted) shame, and perpetuating a cycle of solitary mourning.

“Some have bravely shared their stories; they have opened the door, knowing that when one person speaks truth, it gives license for all of us to do the same.”

If you or someone you know has been affected by issues with pregnancy, the following organisations may be able to help.

Source: Miscarriage Association

The Weeknd calls Grammy Awards corrupt after nominations snub

The Weeknd has accused the Grammys of being corrupt, after failing to receive any nominations for the 2021 awards.

The Canadian pop star had been expected to perform strongly, thanks to his hit album After Hours and the single Blinding Lights, which is the longest-running top 10 hit in US chart history.

“The Grammys remain corrupt,” he wrote on Twitter, hours after the nominations were announced.

“You owe me, my fans and the industry transparency.”

Several US media reports suggested that The Weeknd, whose real name is Abel Tesfaye, was locked out of the awards after weeks of discussions over a possible appearance at January’s Grammys ceremony.

“There was an ultimatum given resulting in a struggle over him also playing the Super Bowl that went on for some time and was eventually agreed upon that he would perform at both events,” an unnamed source told Rolling Stone magazine.

The head of the Recording Academy, which organises the awards, dismissed any suggestion that the star’s award nominations had been cancelled as a result.

“We understand that The Weeknd is disappointed at not being nominated. I was surprised and can empathise with what he’s feeling,” said Harvey Mason Jr.

“Unfortunately, every year, there are fewer nominations than the number of deserving artists. To be clear, voting in all categories ended well before The Weeknd’s performance at the Super Bowl was announced, so in no way could it have affected the nomination process.”

Beyoncé led the nominations at this year’s Grammys – with nine in total. Dua Lipa, Taylor Swift and Roddy Ricch were close behind, with six apiece.

Covid Christmas rules: UK leaders urge caution over household mixing

Leaders of the four UK nations have warned people to be cautious of the risk of spreading coronavirus when rules are relaxed over Christmas.

Up to three households will be allowed to form a “Christmas bubble” from 23 to 27 December.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson told people to use their “personal judgment” on whether to visit elderly relatives.

A scientific adviser to the government said the relaxation of rules amounted to “throwing fuel on the Covid fire”.

The measures will see travel restrictions across the four nations, and between tiers and levels, lifted to allow people to visit families in other parts of the UK.

Anyone travelling to or from Northern Ireland may travel on the 22 and 28 December, but otherwise travel to and from bubbles should be done between the 23 and 27.

People will not be able to get together with others from more than two other households, and once a bubble is formed, it must not be changed or be extended further.

The guidance says a bubble of three households would be able to stay overnight at each other’s home but would not be able to visit hospitality, theatres or retail settings.

In a video message from Downing Street, the prime minister described the agreement as a “special, time-limited dispensation”, saying: “This year means Christmas will be different.”

Mr Johnson said people must consider the risks of who to form a bubble with and whether or not to visit elderly or vulnerable relatives, adding: “Many of us are longing to spend time with family and friends… And yet we can’t afford to throw caution to the wind.

“The virus doesn’t know it’s Christmas and we must all be careful.”

The leaders of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland reached the agreement at a meeting on Tuesday afternoon.

In a joint statement, they urged people to “think carefully about what they do” to keep the risk of increased transmission low.

They said: “Before deciding to come together over the festive period we urge the consideration of alternative approaches such as the use of technology or meeting outside.”

They added 2020 “cannot be a normal Christmas” but family and friends will be able to see each other in a “limited and cautious” way.

Published guidance for England gives further details of the rules:

The guidance also advises people to take precautions when meeting their Christmas bubble such as washing hands frequently and opening windows to clear potential virus particles.

Some scientists have warned that the relaxation of Covid restrictions over the festive period could spark another wave of infections and further deaths.

Prof Andrew Hayward, director of the UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care, and a member of the government’s Sage committee, told BBC Newsnight that allowing families to meet up over Christmas amounted to “throwing fuel on the Covid fire”.

He said it would “definitely lead to increase[d] transmission and likely lead to third wave of infections with hospitals being overrun, and more unnecessary deaths.”

Prof Hayward said while you cannot ban Christmas, he called for clearer messaging to families about the “dangers” of socialising and inter-generational mixing.

Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, suggested the relaxation of restrictions at Christmas will “almost inevitably” lead to an increase in transmission.

But he said: “Providing that the new tier system is better managed than in October, any increase in cases could be relatively short-lived.

“After Christmas we will still have to live through a few more months of restrictions at least.”

Jillian Evans, the director of health intelligence at NHS Grampian, said the easing of restrictions over Christmas would cost lives.

“We’ve got winter weather, we know that people are more susceptible to infection over the colder period, and we’ve got a festive period where people will be socialising,” she said.

“Those are facts, and I would rather be honest and tell you that those are the facts, and be truthful about it so people can understand the risks that they’re taking.”

What to do about Christmas divides opinion.

Increased mixing indoors will certainly mean there is greater transmission of the virus.

But, as chief medical adviser Prof Chris Whitty said on Monday, there is a balance to be struck between the harm the virus can cause and the societal and economic impacts of trying to control it.

He called for a “public-spirited approach”.

By that he means adhering to the restrictions in the lead-up to Christmas, being responsible with the opportunity the relaxation gives people, and then immediately switching back to compliance.

If that happens, any impact could be minimised – and, of course, it will be up to individuals to decide just how much they mix within the rules.

These are very fine judgement calls by ministers.

They hope Christmas will provide respite and help steel the public for what is clearly going to be a long, hard winter.

They also feel they have little choice, believing large numbers of people would ignore pleas not to mix – and this way they can provide advice on how to enjoy Christmas as safely as possible.

But there is also the risk by sanctioning it there will be more mixing than there would have otherwise been.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said Christmas travellers should plan journeys carefully and prepare for restrictions on passenger numbers to allow for social distancing.

On Tuesday, the government recorded another 608 UK deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid test, as well as a further 11,299 cases of people testing positive for the virus.

Gyms and non-essential shops in all parts of England will be allowed to reopen from 2 December under a strengthened three-tiered system.

Areas will not find out which tier they are in until Thursday – and the decision will be based on a number of factors including case numbers, the reproduction rate – or R number – and pressure on local NHS services.

US-China trade war: Trump gives one last twist

The US will slap tariffs on Chinese twist ties, which are commonly used to seal bread bags and tie up cables.

The US said that China has been unfairly subsidising twist ties to the disadvantage of American producers.

This is the first time the US Commerce Department will impose tariffs to reduce the impact of China’s currency.

The department said China’s undervalued currency makes Chinese twist ties cheaper to US consumers, at the expense of its own producers.

“The Department of Commerce will continue to use the legal tools at our disposal to aggressively counter currency undervaluation and other unfair subsidies, further ensuring a level playing field for American businesses and workers,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement.

The company that made the original complaint – Bedford Industries from Worthington, Minnesota – primarily makes twist ties that are used to package or reseal baked goods, coffee and vegetables.

Its products are mainly found in supermarkets across the US.

In a blog post from earlier this year, Bedford argued that the growing market share of Chinese producers would have been “unobtainable through fair competition”.

The decision comes as the President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take over from President Donald Trump.

Mr Trump’s administration has been hostile to China on trade, ratcheting up tariffs and restricting Chinese technology companies on national security grounds.

The Department of Commerce says it has initiated 306 new investigations under Mr Trump, a 283% increase from the comparable period in the previous administration.

It’s not yet clear what changes Mr Biden will bring to trade policy, although he has said he would work with other democracies to “set the rules of the road” on trade.

The value of imported twist ties is minimal, amounting to an estimated $4.15m (£3.1m) last year and $6.8m (£5m) the previous year.

In fact, the US government doesn’t even keep statistics on the import of twist ties, so the estimate was provided by Bedford itself.

However, the twist ties case could set a precedent, because it takes the unusual step of taking currency into account, something that has only been allowed under the department’s rules since earlier this year.

The US Department of Commerce said it will impose “countervailing” duties on Chinese twist ties, which are designed to offset subsidies that Chinese exporters and producers receive from their government.

Chinese exporters receive subsidies of 122.5% when the impact of “China’s undervalued currency” is taken into account, according to the department.

Separately, the US treasury dropped its designation of China as a currency manipulator earlier this year.

The yuan is currently at its highest value against the US dollar since 2018.

The duties will go into effect in April, after the US International Trade Commission makes a final decision on the issue.

Coronavirus: Second-hand website becomes latest unicorn start-up

A second-hand car website has seen its value rocket to more than $1bn (£750m), putting it into unicorn status.

India’s Cars24 has seen a big rise in business during the pandemic as people look to alternatives to public transport such as pre-owned cars.

India’s popular but unreliable rail networks were shut off completely when the country went into lock-down.

A unicorn refers to a start-up that is valued at more than $1bn, and includes big names such as Uber and Airbnb.

Covid-19 infections in India have now surpassed 9 million and further lockdowns are being considered.

While trains and buses in India’s big cities have resumed services, many commuters are avoiding public transport over fears they could catch the virus while commuting.

This has led to a rise in demand for Cars24, which is based in the city of Gurgaon, near New Delhi.

By the middle of this year, sales had risen 20% from pre-lockdown levels and continue to rise.

“People who did not have cars were looking to own a car due to safety issues while many others wanted to upgrade from two-wheelers,” said founder and chief executive Vikram Chopra.

The firm’s potential has caught the eye of investment firm DST Global, which spearheaded a $200m funding deal for Cars24 which it announced on Tuesday.

This latest round of financing values the online platform at more than $1bn. Business analytics firm CB Insights says there are now 500 unicorn companies around the world.

Mr Chopra started Cars24 after finding he could not sell his Hyundai Accent, eventually giving it away to a friend.

“The market for used cars and bikes in India is a huge $50bn opportunity,” he explained.

DST Global is based in Hong Kong and has backed a number of high-profile tech companies over the years, including Facebook, WhatsApp and Alibaba.

In India, DST has invested in the online shopping company Flipkart, which sold an 80% stake to Walmart two years ago.

Harrabin: Now will the Treasury go green?

Last week, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled his 10-point plan to create jobs and cut carbon emissions.

It included investment in wind and solar power, carbon capture, hydrogen and nuclear.

But here’s a question – as Mr Johnson is driving emissions down, is his chancellor preparing to drive them back up?

It’s a key issue as the PM strives for green credibility as he prepares the ground for the climate summit he’ll host this time next year.

So far his plans have raised only two cheers.

Campaigners starved of positive climate news applauded his 10-point approach to driving down emissions across society – from cars, to industry, power generation and home heating.

But they complained that the sum allotted was paltry – just £4bn – way lower than “green” measures imposed by France and Germany to create jobs while cutting emissions.

A Downing Street source told me the Treasury’s spending review would not increase that figure.

That’s bad news for people concerned about the climate – but here’s worse…

The Treasury has long been planning a £27bn programme of road-building that will actually increase emissions by attracting more cars on to the roads.

It’s part of a long-term £90bn roads investment that appears to run contrary to the wish of even the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps for people to drive less to combat global heating.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has stated that his priority is creating jobs and getting the economy back on its feet.

But recent analysis suggests that the labour-intensive task of insulating homes, which reduces emissions, creates at least four times more jobs than highly mechanised road building.

Using government data, the think tank e3g calculated that every job created in highly-mechanised road building costs the taxpayer £250,000, whereas a job in home insulation costs £59,000.

So, is Mr Sunak backing the PM’s stated “green” agenda – or is he making his own path?

BBC News asked the Treasury if it has even calculated the amount of carbon that would be emitted as a result of its spending programme.

So far, after many hours and phone calls, we’ve had no reply… not even a “no comment.”

The pressure group WWF demanded greater transparency behind the decision-making.

The group’s head, Tanya Steele, said: “We need the chancellor to live up to the ambition expressed (by Mr Johnson), through a spending review that tests every line of public spending to ensure it’s compatible with meeting our climate goals.”

So far there’s no evidence that’s happening. And the absence of Treasury commitment would make the the PM’s aspiration towards global leadership very difficult indeed.

Follow Roger on Twitter @rharrabin

Red Hot Chilli Piper: Women grope me under my kilt

One of Scotland’s leading pipers says he is groped, humiliated and photographed indecently by women on a regular basis while wearing a kilt.

Willie Armstrong from the Red Hot Chilli Pipers told BBC Scotland he had experienced inappropriate behaviour since childhood.

He believes other pipers have similar experiences and that complaints are often laughed off or dismissed.

Upskirting was banned in Scotland in 2009.

The practice – taking images or videos under a person’s clothing in order to see genitals or underwear – was eventually banned in England and Wales last year following a campaign by a woman who was targeted at a music festival.

Mr Armstrong told BBC Radio Scotland’s Drivetime he was “weary” of the “true Scotsman” cliché and feels men are not taken seriously if they complain of inappropriate behaviour.

“It’s just been a constant thing even since I was a wee laddie,” he said. “Women used to put their hands up your kilt.

“I used to tell my mum and dad – they would say it’s just one of those things. But is it really? That was 1976 behaviour, it’s not acceptable.”

He added: “It’s the constant ‘are you a true Scotsman?’ – basically asking you if you’re wearing underwear or not. If you reversed that behaviour and I was to say to a woman ‘can I ask what you’re wearing underneath your dress’ it would be a whole different ball game.”

Mr Armstrong described a number of instances where he was sexually assaulted while performing.

At one corporate event, he said one woman took a picture underneath his kilt and passed her phone around the table.

“I actually had to stop playing,” he said. “I keep thinking imagine I’d done that to her – I would be arrested, and rightly so. I don’t find it funny – and I know other men do find it funny.

“I remember playing at Ayr Town Hall. I came off the stage, the crowd go crazy, and in trying to get back to the stage I don’t know how many times there were hands up my kilt. I’m trying to play my pipes but I’m also trying to protect my own dignity.”

Pipers frequently experience this kind of behaviour, according to Mr Armstrong, who at one point in his career was experiencing incidents “almost every week”.

“Quite a lot of the time we just accept it,” he said. “It’s not just me, it would happen to every member of the band and it’s not just guys in the Chilli Pipers.

“I think you need to look at it from their perspective – if you’re going to say something to someone or touch somebody you need to have their permission first.

“There’s a boundary there you cannot cross. And too many times it’s been crossed.”

OMG: The creator of the abbreviation would have loved emojis

OMG is a staple of text messages and social media posts across the world. It was first used by a World War One admiral whose extraordinary life and way with words are firing the imagination of his filmmaker great-great granddaughter.

In a quiet graveyard, a short walk across the lawns of a country house in Norfolk, lie the remains of John Arbuthnot Fisher, 1st Baron Fisher, who twice held the role of First Sea Lord.

Fisher, known as “Jacky”, is credited by the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) with first using the abbreviation “OMG”, when, in a letter to Winston Churchill in 1917, he wrote: “I hear that a new order of Knighthood is on the tapis—O.M.G. (Oh! My God!)—Shower it on the Admiralty!!”

According to the OED, it means “causing or characterized by a reaction of astonishment, excitement, etc.; that might cause one to exclaim ‘oh my God!'”

Now his great-great granddaughter Penelope, who owns production company Trident Films, is trying to make a film about his life, under the working title Sea Lord.

She first learned of her ancestor’s role in OMG in her early 20s. For her, it was merely yet another interesting detail of a life that had long been a source of fascination.

Born in 1841 in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, Lord Fisher joined HMS Victory at Portsmouth in 1854. He ascended rapidly through the ranks, achieving the highest-ever Royal Navy score for navigation in his lieutenant’s exams.

He was, by all accounts, a man who demanded to be heard, and one “who didn’t suffer fools lightly”, according to his descendants.

“I remember learning about him when I was doing a project at school when I was about 13,” says Penelope.

“It lit up my imagination. I was enthralled with who my ancestor was.

“I found him to be a remarkable character. He was well known for his use of abbreviations and his clever use of words. And I found his relationship with Churchill really interesting – they seemed to have had quite a unique relationship.

“From my research, I realised they both clearly knew and understood the power of words and how they were going to be remembered in history.”

For Penelope, Jacky’s dextrous and agile use of words has added piquancy because she is dyslexic.

“I’ve struggled with reading and writing,” she says.

“In that sense we are very different, and in that sense I find him all the more remarkable.

“But I also find him inspirational in that he rose from nothing, really, as a 13-year-old in the Royal Navy to become the First Sea Lord.

“He showed overcoming things was possible. He worked his socks off to get where he did. He inspired me to try and try.

“I don’t think people understand what it is like to really struggle with reading and writing.”

She wonders whether Jacky, who frequently used abbreviations, might also have had some form of dyslexia.

“Dyslexia is definitely hereditary and he definitely could have been dyslexic. One thing I’ve learned is that no one dyslexic person is exactly the same as others.

“I believe a lot of his abbreviations came from his brain moving too fast.”

Asked what Jacky would have made of OMG being a staple in the lexicon of text, she says: “I think he would have loved it. He loved all forms of communication and was a big fan of wireless communication.

“He would have absolutely loved emojis. He would have loved Twitter. He might have been a bit Trumpesque with his use – not necessarily in what he said but in how he said it, using the format to get what he wanted to say out there.”

Might his place as the creator of OMG ever be called into question? Unlikely, unless some evidence of prior use emerges.

Fiona McPherson, a senior editor at the OED, says: “We never close the door on any entries, but in order to turn our attention to other words we do have to take a reactive approach to such updates.

“This will always be led by any new evidence emerging.

“Online publication has given us the freedom to update as and when needed, which means some entries will be revisited and updated repeatedly, as new evidence presents itself or cultural shifts effect changes in meaning and usage.”

Given the widespread use of OMG in both speech and text, does Penelope ever feel the need to share her family’s role in its origins when she overhears it?

“Er, no,” she says. “I don’t think many people realise OMG came through the Admiralty.

“But it does give me a little chuckle when I hear it. I don’t tend to hear it much in my every day life but it sometimes comes up when we’re watching television.”

Acronyms and abbreviations with unexpected histories

And what might Jacky have made of the success of his phrase?

“He would have loved it. He would have loved to have seen how it is used,” says Penelope.

Her reaction on learning her ancestor gave the world OMG?

“No, I didn’t respond with an OMG, though I do use it quite a lot,” she says.

“I wish he had trademarked it – I could easily fund all the films I want to make if he had.”

The piece you have read thus far might well have ended here, but for that stroll over to Jacky’s gravestone, accompanied by the current Lord Fisher, Patrick.

He is not a keen exponent of the phrase “OMG” and points out his great-grandfather’s favourite term was actually “Buggins’s turn”. The phrase, according to the OED, means “the principle or practice of awarding a promotion, job, etc., to a person because it is considered to be his or her turn, rather than on the basis of merit.”

And its first known use? Yes, once again, it seems it was by Jacky Fisher, who in 1901 wrote: “Favouritism was the secret of our efficiency in the old days… Going by seniority saves so much trouble. ‘Buggins’s turn’ has been our ruin and will be disastrous hereafter!”

The inscription on Jacky’s gravestone is obscured by a frosting of lichen.

But there, on the fifth line, are his post-nominal initials: G.C.B (Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath), O.M. (Order of Merit), G.C.V.O (Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order).

“You see, he did have OMG on his headstone,” says the 4th Baron Fisher.

“Of course,” he adds wryly, “it is not quite the same OMG.”

Covid and home schooling: Children flourishing as numbers rise

Some parents could not wait to get their children back to school after the first coronavirus lockdown.

But Louise’s two children remain at home – initially because she was shielding, but increasingly because “they are flourishing”.

They are among 806 children removed from school registers by parents in Wales between March and September this year – up almost 50% since last year.

The Welsh Government said it had given councils £400,000 for home-schooling.

But some parents teaching their children at home have called for more support.

Figures obtained by BBC Wales Live show 552 children were “deregistered” from school between March and September in 2019. In 2018, the figure was 466.

The actual number will be higher as six local authorities have not given their figures.

Local authorities said children were being deregistered for a number of reasons, including anxiety, coronavirus and lifestyle choice.

Louise, 38, from Abergavenny, said her daughter Orlena struggled with learning at home during the first lockdown, “but when it came to the children going back to school I was afraid and anxious”.

“It was the unknown with Covid – it just filled both me and them with uncertainty.”

Louise suffers with an autoimmune disease which means she would be likely to be “very sick” if she caught coronavirus, which made her children “extremely concerned about bringing it home”.

“So at the end of August we just decided they weren’t going to go back for now,” she explained.

Armed with online resources loosely based around the suggested curriculum for their age, Louise deregistered her children in September.

She has been surprised by how readily Orlena, 12, and nine-year-old Roy have adapted to their new style of education.

“We were just plodding along with school – I was aware Orlena was slow in some things and that Roy was a bit rebellious,” Louise said.

“Home-educating has helped me see their weaknesses and work on them.

“I ask them how they feel about going back to school and both of them say they don’t get as much one-on-one with teachers as they have 30 children to deal with.

“They are flourishing now with someone having the time to sit with them and do things. I do learning through play, and if something doesn’t tickle their mind I don’t force them to do it.”

She said she now sees home education as a potentially long-term arrangement for the children, with the possibility of them studying for their GCSEs at home.

“If the children want to go back once it is safe for them to do so, they can. But I have decided to leave that up to them,” Louise added.

“We might look at flexi-schooling, where they go to school for part of the week, but spend a couple of days being home educated too.”

Although she is sometimes unable to teach them because of her illness, Louise said help from friends, her children’s desire to learn and online resources makes home education possible.

She said: “There hasn’t been any support, the only support has been through other home-educating parents online.”

Monmouthshire council said it worked with home-schooling parents “in line with Welsh Government guidance”, and that no parents had been in touch to express disappointment with the level of support.

Freedom of Information requests by Wales Live to local authorities found there were a total of 2,250 children currently being home educated in Wales. In 2019 there were 2,171 while in 2018 that figure was 1,878.

The number may be higher as it is not compulsory for parents to register their children as being home schooled if they have never attended school.

Lockdown has been like an “extended free trial” for home schooling and the “biggest single boost in home education ever”, according to Alastair Lawsom, from education resource website Twinkl.

But home schooling has been more challenging for other parents.

Polly, from Ceredigion, started home schooling her 12-year-old daughter Meg in September to shield her husband – who previously had a kidney transplant – from the virus.

“I can’t describe how hard I find it having to be teacher, mother, best friend,” said Polly.

“I’ve had no official support. Ceredigion council were very supportive when we chose to withdraw her from education – they didn’t oppose it and we didn’t have any fines and I think we had one letter with a link to online resources.”

Ceredigion council has been asked to comment.

She said the experience has made them a lot closer as a mother and daughter, but added: “Some sort of mentoring for me would really help. Some sort of guidelines.”

Plans to set up a compulsory register of children being home schooled were shelved by the Welsh Government in June due to the pandemic.

As a result, Children’s Commissioner Sally Holland has launched a review into regulations surrounding home schooling to see if it should be better regulated.

A Welsh Government spokeswoman said it was updating a leaflet for home-educating parents concerned about coronavirus, and they needed to be aware of the implications of home-schooling.

She said: “We’re aware that some parents may have made the decision to remove their children from school due to Covid-related fears, however, we encourage schools and local authorities to work together with families through a supportive approach to enable a return to school during these challenging times.”

The spokeswoman added the Welsh Government had allocated £400,000 to local authorities this year to support home-schooling families, which is “unique to Wales”.

Watch Wales Live on BBC One Wales at 22.35 GMT on Wednesday, and afterwards on BBC iPlayer.

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