Remote Learning in Lockdown – Lessons Learned?

Posted in : Cassidy's Comments on 5 January 2021
Frank Cassidy
Former Principal & Regional Officer of ASCL
Issues covered: Education; Remote learning

As the New Year begins, we are faced again with school closures and children and families struggling with home schooling in lockdown mode. Our experiences from the last extended school closure in Spring 2020 should make it possible for us all to do this better. Government responses in most jurisdictions, to limit school closures to the absolute minimum, are a big indicator that trying to educate children at home has proved at best problematic. The obvious drawbacks have been well debated from restricted access to computers either because parents are working from home and using devices, or simply because of lack of internet access in disadvantaged settings. Even when all the necessary pieces of the home-schooling jigsaw are in place, there are the predictable difficulties of keeping children on task and dealing with the emotional cost of their isolation from normal peer group interaction.

Is there anything we can do better this time based on our previous experiences?   Very useful, practical advice for parents coping with lockdown has come from Dr. Olivia Remes, a researcher at the University of Cambridge Institute of Public Health.  She quotes a study from Penn State University which suggests that 91% of what we worry about never happens so we should train ourselves to postpone worries until a dedicated time in the day by which time many will seem less overpowering. Secondly, she recommends developing the habit of writing down three good things that have happened during a day, what our parent’s generation would have called “counting our blessings”. While news bulletins focus mainly on the bad news, some good things are happening in our lives, like more focus on our family time and we should try and retain a balance between the negative and positive experiences in our lockdown lives.

One of the UK’s leading charities, Young Minds which campaigns for children’s mental health, points out that life under lockdown can be especially tough if children’s living circumstances present additional challenges. Their Parents Helpline lists tips for dealing with a lack of physical space, parental separation, arguments, aggressive or violent behaviour and domestic abuse.

Some of the most serious problems above obviously require professional intervention to keep children safe, but one issue which most people could address themselves is the fact that young people who don't have their own space can struggle to cope effectively. This may be because they share a bedroom, do not have access to any outdoor space, or feel that they cannot find a quiet part of the house where they can be by themselves. Although young people may not have a lot of physical space, Young Minds stress that it is important that they can find ways of creating some mental space. This might be through reading, drawing, exercising, chatting to friends on Zoom – anything that helps them reach a different headspace.

In addition, they suggest that teenagers in particular need some private space to call friends or do the things they like without being disturbed. They advise that it might be helpful to create a schedule where you agree as a family who can spend time in a certain room or space at a given time and establish a routine to get some fresh air, exercise and a change of scenery

Experience has shown that lockdown understandably brings more arguments in homes and Young Minds points out that it is natural for young people to take their frustrations out on those they are closest to. Small problems seem big and increased tensions and arguments inevitably follow so their sound advice to parents is;

It is completely understandable if there are more arguments in your family at the home.

Firstly, to try to stay calm and temporarily remove themselves from the situation to prevent things from escalating. For example, move into another room or go for a walk. Secondly to be proactive and create agreed arrangements with children to prevent conflict over shared facilities like TV, Play Station and Xbox etc.

NAHT together with other teacher unions have made practical suggestions for parents in lockdown which complement the emotional management advice above. They have tried to take some pressure off by reassuring parents that they cannot be expected to adequately home school the nation’s children in the long term and not to worry if they feel that they are struggling. They stress that these are unprecedented times, and that impromptu home-schooling was never going to be ideal. They recommend however, some methods and techniques to help.

Acknowledging adult ignorance of the curriculum and letting children experience the satisfaction of educating parents in something they’ve learned can be an effective motivator. Breaking up the time a child spends on a digital device will help vary their routine, prevent boredom from setting in and keep their mind active.  Books and other printed materials can be alternative sources of learning and writing by hand should be encouraged. Like Young minds, The Unions suggest that participation in regular physical activities will also help keep them healthy and happy, and that setting a routine, making sure children are dressed for the day and have eaten breakfast creates a daily timetable. All of these measures are essential to keep them prepared to adjust when they finally do return to school. NAHT strongly recommend setting times during the day when children will work independently and other times when they should be supervised. Finally, setting a clear playtime, lunchtime and ‘end of school’ time, after which they can feel free to do their own thing is vital to get this all to work.

It is equally important for schools to have learned from the experience of last Spring’s lockdown remote learning. ASCL Curriculum and Inspection Specialist Stephen Rollett has published some useful advice on maximising the approaches that have proved most effective.

His “best bits” advice includes;

  • Delaying some aspects of the curriculum which are difficult to teach remotely and picking  them up when schools reopen;
  • Ensuring that learning subjects are planned coherently over time and connect together and are not just an ad hoc selection of activities.
  • Having a clear sense of the volume of work and interaction pupils are receiving. Too much leaves pupils and parents anxious while too little fails to connect home and school and may leave important gaps in learning.
  • Thinking about IT access in homes and perhaps providing temporary loans of IT equipment and supplementing the online lessons with an offline version of printed materials.
  • Holding virtual meetings between staff to talk through options and hear what others in the school are doing, and to share successful practice can be very positive when working remotely.

Planning ahead for a return to normal schooling will also be a vital part of what happens next, including a realistic reappraisal of the forthcoming examination series. As we have discussed in previous articles on lost classroom time, appropriate future support for disadvantaged and underachieving pupils must be a top priority.


This article is correct at 05/01/2021

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Frank Cassidy
Former Principal & Regional Officer of ASCL

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