‘Children are learning on mum’s phone’ - Schools struggle to meet home-schooling demands
- Credit: PA
Parents are beginning home-learning again but the demands of providing online teaching has left some schools struggling to ensure all children continue to learn.
All pupils – except children of key workers and vulnerable pupils – have moved to remote education until February half-term at the earliest amid tighter restrictions.
Schools across the region have restarted online lessons but with many delivering very different methods and some facing challenges where families lack IT equipment or internet access.
Melodie Fearns, headteacher at St George’s Primary in Great Yarmouth, said: “We are doing our best.
“We purchased around 30 notebooks during the autumn term from our budget, cutting other resources by around £8,000, with this moment in mind. So we are starting to issue those now.
“We have finally received our laptop allocation from the Government - it came on Monday despite continually requesting release of this stock from July, but these need setting up which takes time.”
Gavin Williamson said the government had purchased more than one million laptops and tablets and have already delivered over 560,000, with an extra 100,000 this week alone.
In a statement to MPs on Wednesday about the closure of schools, the education secretary said: “Unwelcome though this latest lockdown is, and I am very conscious of the real challenges parents are facing with their children at home, we are far better placed to cope with it than we were last March.
“We have also been significantly stepping up the digital support we are providing to schools and parents.”
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Nevertheless some schools are struggling to address a digital divide that hits poorer pupils hardest, with research by the educational charity Teach First suggesting four of five schools with the poorest pupils do not have enough devices and internet access.
Pupils who have no access to laptops are designated as “vulnerable children”, the Department for Education has said, meaning they can continue attending school for face-to-face learning during lockdown.
Ms Fearns said: “More children are coming to light today that are working off mum’s phone, so I am not confident at the moment we have enough equipment to meet the need.
“We then have further complications that some of our families have no WIFI or internet in their homes. We have some hubs from the Government but need to get these set up.
“After we have everyone online our offer is live regular teaching throughout the day on Zoom with supported material on Google classrooms, but the problem initially is communicating how to access the platforms in the first instance.”
Mike Smith-Clare, Labour lead for children and young people on Norfolk County Council, said: “Remote learning is essential - offering a lifeline of learning opportunity. Digital poverty must not reduce or restrict this.
“We need to know how many young people are affected by digital poverty and connectivity issues and work urgently to address them.”
Norfolk parents who took part in a debate about online school on our Facebook page described variations in how it was being delivered.
Helen Downing said: “Three different schools and all really good online lessons definitely bring clear structure to the day and make them sit and concentrate as similar to being in a class environment.
“Only concern we have is only one laptop between three kids. Online learning through a mobile phone is not great but needs must. Children are much better with structure than previous lockdown learning.”
Becki Jane added: “Not a great support system from our school, barely have an online learning app to use. Other parents are using different online learning systems to ensure that their children actually learn something during this time.”
The education secretary has said that parents can report schools to Ofsted if they are unhappy with their child’s remote learning.
He told MPs that the mandatory duty placed on schools will still be enforced by the watchdog who will inspect schools if they have serious concerns about the provision.
Helena Gillespie, professor of learning and teaching at the University of East Anglia, and a former teacher/governor, said for many parents this return to homeschooling will be much tougher than last spring as the “novelty has worn off”.
She said: “There is a sense of tiredness and weariness that there wasn’t last spring and that is why it's important to put family wellbeing at the heart of homeschooling.
“The important thing is to make a plan with your child to check they can log-on with lessons and courses and to set expectations.
“Stay in contact with schools and your child’s teacher. Schools are open and they still want to talk to the pupils.”