The Covid 19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown has caused immeasurable disruption to people’s lives and children’s schooling. With parents working from home, most pupils unable to return to school, and many families worried about lost income, the additional stresses and strains that home schooling brings have been profound.
The most important message for parents is that they are doing enough. Teaching children at home is very different to their daily experience in school, and parents are not expected to become teachers in any way that is comparable to what teachers do in the classroom. When pupils do return to school, teachers will be there to support the children, and to work with families and children to help them continue their educational journeys that were interrupted so suddenly by the pandemic.
At our school, we are lucky enough to be able to continue to run 6 lessons a day through our parent portal for the Senior School, and to set, mark and return work online. It has been an extremely steep learning curve, and staff who had never used Teams before are now experts, our YouTube channel is full of stories, lessons, assemblies and all manner of helpful hints, from handwriting tips for Year 2 to drama lessons for Year 9. With Junior School pupils meeting teachers ever more online, and having had lessons uploaded on a daily basis since virtual school began in March, things somehow have never seemed busier
How parents and pupils access any school’s online provision is dependent on circumstance, and every family will be different. Motivation for both pupils and children has inevitable peaks and troughs, and that too is OK. Children need time outside, they need opportunities to play and process the world that has changed around them, and if everything set by school is not finished every day, that is not a parenting or home schooling ‘failure’ – it is just part of life.
Teachers know learning opportunities are everywhere, and are often very adaptable themselves: as an English teacher I have stopped what we were doing to go to the school orchard with Year 9, or to enjoy the outdoors with a Year 7 class and link this to what we can do in a classroom because this too is a valuable learning experience.
Sometimes it will also be technology that can easily derail the best laid plans. With three primary age children ourselves, as well as both having very busy teaching jobs, the router choosing to pack up is something that can bring everything to a grinding halt. Teachers experience the same thing: the great frustration when a wonderful PowerPoint complete with video for Year 4 and voiceover proves too large to upload and needs starting again, small children wandering in during a live Teams meeting, the realisation that a Governors meeting over Zoom shows just how much you need a haircut.
As with so much around school, communication is so important. We have been writing to parents regularly and keeping them informed at every step, both as closure approached and since. We have kept up the weekly newsletter through the Easter holidays and each week since: it has even grown during lockdown, and we love seeing what the children are up to at home. Parental inventiveness is wonderful to see.
Asking your children’s teachers when something is unclear is always better than turning to WhatsApp or social media – teachers will want to make sure things are clear, and to support. They are not there to judge your ‘home school,’ they know all too well the pressures of inspection!
It is really important to remember that although ‘home schooling’ is a phrase so many are using, this does not correlate to elective home education as existed before schools moved online. Those who do choose to home school do it not because they are suddenly told to, they do not remain in lockdown, and they have, most importantly, made a choice. For all those whose schools moved to remote learning, this was not a choice. Home is a place different to school, although both should be places where children feel happy, safe and supported.
Even when remote learning ends for the summer term, there are parents who are worried about how to fill the summer holidays, with uncertainty over the lifting of lockdown restrictions in everyone’s minds. While so much of the South West economy relies on the tourist trade, this year the need to get up and running is greater than ever, but mixed with genuine worries about the broader impact of the influx of tourists. For our children, the summer should be a time to regroup, to meet friends as restrictions allow and to ensure as much normality as possible.
While many children are remarkably resilient, as our lovely returning Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 classes have shown, we need as parents and as teachers to be very aware of the broader impact this enforced isolation may have had upon their wellbeing, and their mental health.
The summer is an excellent time to help them vocalise and process their concerns, their worries, and the changes that have affected them. Making time to listen to these concerns, even though our lives are full, is very important. Finding time to play with younger ones is equally important, and ensuring older children have opportunities to re-establish social connections that are fundamental to the development of their sense of selves, and of the young adults they are becoming, needs to happen sensitively.
There will be many opportunities to continue learning over the summer should any families wish to do so, and resources such as BBC Bitesize are tailor made for this, and free for all. As a school we can prepare summer consolidation work is appropriate, but time away from schoolbooks is needed for those who have worked through the term of online school just as it would be for any summer holiday.
Parents should take the time to congratulate themselves on their successes working with their children at home in the face of technological disasters, hardware difficulties (or the absence of any internet enabled device) the stresses and strains of trying to get children to learn in a home environment that is, quite deliberately, very different to that at school. We have had to get used to very different routines, and parents should be very proud of all they have achieved, and not worry about those things they have not completed.
Now, as ever, all those involved in the care of children should celebrate them for the individuals they are, and work together to overcome any barriers to them achieving their potential. In international, independent and maintained school teaching through 18 years, this has been a constant with great teachers, working together with parents in the best interests of children. The importance of a trusting relationship between teachers, parents and pupils has only been reemphasised in recent months.
This summer, take the time if you can to play on the moor, to visit friends (in line with guidelines of course), to run with the children on the beach and in the surf, to splash in the river, to remember to laugh, to encourage reading in whatever form children will do (I remain an English teacher at heart) and to recognise just what a journey we have all been on. Parents: take a collective bow for just what you have achieved for, and with, your children.