Helping your child learn during coronavirus school closures
With Covid cases at a record high and the UK once again in lockdown, primary schools are now closed to all but a few pupils.
Some children will still be able to go to school, including children of key workers such as NHS staff, police and delivery drivers, and vulnerable children including those who have a social worker and those with educational health and care plans, but it's stressed that this should be a last resort.
Here, we’ve answered some of your burning questions about how the ever-changing situation might affect your child and the rest of the family.
Why have schools closed again?
The UK is in the grips of a new stage of the pandemic, with a new strain of the virus proving far more transmittable than the original version.
Although the risk to children's health still remains low, there are concerns that they may be able to pass on the virus easily, even if they seem well with no symptoms themselves. This could affect the health of school staff, and also people in the wider community, such as their parents, support bubble and anyone else they come into contact with.
Additionally, as the virus proliferates, increasing numbers of teachers will have to self-isolate because they, or a family member, have symptoms of the illness or have been in contact with someone else who has.
This would leave schools understaffed and unable to provide a safe environment for pupils.
How schools will set work during the coronavirus closures period
The Department for Education (DfE) has told schools that they must provide remote learning, and there are are a number of ways in which schools can set work for children.
‘I anticipate that there will be significant variance in the work set for pupils over the coming weeks,’ says headteacher Liz Browning.
‘This will depend on schools’ capacity to plan, prepare and distribute work, their ability to set work using a range of media, taking into account the technology capabilities of the school, and schools’ expectations of how much support parents and carers will be able to give.’
Some of the methods schools might use include:
- Work sent by email or published on the school website: many already publish homework tasks online.
- Use of websites and apps like Purple Mash (which can be used to set a wide range of tasks including maths activities, writing projects, spellings, comprehension and computer coding), English apps like Letterland and Spelling Shed, and Hit the Button, Mathletics and Times Tables Rockstars maths apps. TheSchoolRun has picked 12 of the best websites for home learning for you to consider.
- Providing home learning books before schools close, with worksheets, tasks to complete, and suggestions for creative projects.
- Sending home several reading books of the right level for your child.
- Google Classroom: a service where teachers can set work, share resources and communicate with pupils – they can even host ‘live’ lessons for pupils.
The content of work set will again vary from school to school, but try not to panic about having to teach your child new skills and information that you may not be comfortable with yourself.
‘We won’t be teaching any new content initially,’ says deputy head Beth Collins. ‘The focus will be on filling gaps and reinforcing the basics like times tables, number and place value, spelling, and grammar.’
How much work is your child supposed to do each day?
How long is a piece of string?
The DfE says that children who are being electively home educated must receive a ‘suitable full-time education’ – but that doesn’t apply when they’re at home because of lockdown measures, rather than being home educated through choice.
In any case, the DfE says that home learning doesn’t have to mirror the patterns of the school day. You’re not required to:
- have a timetable
- have set hours during which education will take place
- observe school hours, days or terms
Realistically, the amount of work your child is expected to do will depend on what their school sets.
‘We’re expecting KS2 pupils to do some English and maths daily, but also encouraging them to be active, and providing art packs for drawing and sketching,’ says Beth.
If you feel your child isn’t getting enough work from school, remember you can always supplement it. You could, for example:
- Use TheSchoolRun's resources, including learning packs, worksheets, tutorials, Homework Gnome, and SATs past and practice papers, and take out a subscription to receive our daily emails with tasks and activities tailored to your child’s age. We've written a complete guide to what's available for free on TheSchoolRun to help with home learning.
- Encourage your child to read widely across fiction, non-fiction, child-friendly newspapers and magazines, and comics.
- Try some virtual learning experiences (we've picked 50 amazing ones to consider, from online museum visits to virtual literary festivals).
- Take part in some of the free educational live streams on offer.
- Read our guide to making online learning as effective as possible.
- Use apps to practise key skills and develop new ones: we’ve reviewed hundreds of apps covering spelling, phonics, reading, times tables, science and many more.
- Consider hiring a tutor who can provide lessons online or through a program like Skype: this may be particularly useful if your child is preparing for the 11+, or if you want to take the opportunity to focus on an area of learning that they find harder.
If you feel your child is getting too much work, drop their teacher a line by email. Remember that this is a novel situation for schools, too, and they may take some time to work out what sort of home learning, and how much, is appropriate.
Bear in mind, too, that when they’re working one to one with few distractions, your child may well produce as much work in a couple of hours as they would in a full day at school in a class of 30 – you certainly aren’t expected to do a full six hours a day!
Nor are you expected to deliver ‘professional’ lessons, or expect your child to be as focused as they are at school.
Will your child’s work get marked?
It’s likely that most schools will focus more on providing learning resources than on marking, but again, it will vary from school to school.
‘Some home learning will be expected to be submitted in our school, especially for KS2,’ says Beth. ‘It will be marked through Google Docs and returned.’
Learning apps and websites typically provide answers so your child can check their own work and revisit tasks that they struggled with. TheSchoolRun’s worksheets and tutorials also provide answers so you can ‘mark’ your child’s work.
What if you’re working from home?
Many of us will be trying to juggle homeworking with home-learning, and schools should recognise the challenges that this presents.
‘If parents are working at home, I don’t think they can be expected to “teach” children,’ says Liz.
Your child may be able to do some work independently, but if you’re struggling to provide them with the support they need to learn alongside working, cut yourself some slack – schools will be realistic about how much you’re able to do.
In terms of whether you’ll get paid if you’re having to stay at home with your child, the situation is unclear.
You’re entitled to emergency ‘time off for dependants,’ and it’s up to your employer to decide how much time you can take. They can pay you for this, but they don’t have to.
You can also take ‘parental leave,’ which is unpaid time off in blocks of whole weeks, up to four weeks per parent per year – although your employer may grant you more.
If you’re working from home and being paid, it’s reasonable for your employer to expect that you’re actually working and not ‘babysitting’.
But if you can reassure them that your work will get done – for example by working when your child is having a break to watch TV or play games, or after they’ve gone to bed – there’s no reason why they should treat you differently to other employees who don’t have children.
If they’re unsure about how it will work, ask them if they’d agree to a trial period of a week or two – if it doesn’t work out, you can reassess.
The government has also stated that if you are unable to work due to your childcare commitments, this is grounds to be furloughed, but it would have to be agreed with your employer.
Accessing educational websites using your child's devices
Most primary school families have a limited number of devices they can use to access home learning, and a laptop of family computer might also be needed so you can complete your own work from home.
Don't forget that games consoles can also access the internet; read our step-by-step guide to using your child's Xbox or PlayStation to access educational websites and download instructions below.