Effects of home-schooling on our kids will be huge and long lasting, warns teacher

Listening to the daily reporting of the coronavirus pandemic, there’s one phrase that is repeatedfrequently and is incredibly annoying for anyone working in schools.

Monday, 1st February 2021, 9:42 am
Huge chasm is opening between kids stuck and home and those coming into school

Politicians and reporters often refer to UK schools being ‘closed’ and wonder when the date will be announced for them to be reopened.

The reality is that schools are not closed during this lockdown – one visit to my local primary school would make that quite apparent.

I walked past the entrance one lunchtime this week – taking a break from my online secondary teaching at home – and saw the playground packed with kids, all playing games like they might have done a year ago when the concerns about the virus seemed like something troubling only distant countries.

Yes, the playground was set out in zones now and there wasn’t quite the numbers of a regular school day, but make no mistake – this was not a school that was ‘closed’ by any stretch of the imagination.

Later in the week, on my daily stroll, I came across a teaching assistant at the school and asked what the numbers of those attending were like. Around half of the children were coming in every single day because their parents were key workers or they were considered to be a vulnerable student.

In one class, there were 22 of the 30 children in the classroom, a number more akin to a handful of kids being off with a stomach bug rather than the nation being in full lockdown.

In secondary schools, the number of children coming in is generally not that high, largely down to the fact that they are more able to stay at home on their own.

But my secondary school does have more children coming into school during this lockdown than the first lockdown – way more. So what has changed?

The definition of what a ‘key worker’ is has evolved substantially since the start of the crisis and now includes more jobs that in previous lockdowns.

Although it was initially the case that two parents or carers had to be keyworkers to gain a place in school, now only one parent has to be and this has obviously swelled the number of children in school.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson famously told us that schools are safe places and that the problem was the ‘mingling’ that took place in buildings.

That mingling is still going on, of course, because with the best will in the world and the most conscientious plans in place it is still impossible to keep six-year-olds socially distanced throughout the day.

And so we have a situation in the city’s schools where there is potentially still a lot of virus spreading going on; experts have clashed over the exact impact that schools have on the spread, although I’m presuming it’s substantial for the government to switch online learning.

But what is going to have a longer term impact on Sheffield’s primary children is the gulf that is developing between those who are in school and those who are at home.

Those who have a keyworker place are coming in to school and being delivered the regular content with their normal teacher every day, in smaller class sizes which could have a further beneficial impact on their learning.

Those at home are having some input via live lessons and support packs are being sent to parents, but let nobody pretend these two approaches are comparable.

The chasm between those stuck at home and those coming in to school will be huge and the effects long-lasting.

Clearly, a teacher that has more than 20 children in the classroom will be noticing very little different between this lockdown and what life was like before Christmas. But they have the added complication of being asked to deliver online lessons to those at home at the same time as working

with the children in the classroom.

I’m now spending my week delivering online lessons to secondary school students and I can tell you it’s a lot harder than it may sound – and that’s just if I’m sat at my desk, without the expectation of being in front of a whiteboard and checking the work of students who are in school.

Hopefully this nightmare will be behind us in a couple of weeks, with all children in school once more and all staff vaccinated.

But the educational impact of this two-tier lockdown will go on far longer than it takes the government to give everybody the shot in the arm they are so desperately wanting.