02 April 2020

Home Schooling - there's no easy answer

Parent and UEA professor Helena Gillespie shares her experience of online learning, and how we might approach home schooling during lockdown. 

girl home schooling

It’s fair to say the next weeks and months are going to be a challenge. My husband and I are both holding down full-time jobs. I’m teaching undergraduates at UEA (online, of course) and my husband teaches at INTO. We can’t simply recreate school at home – we’ve got a lot on! And all of the things that make school work – interaction with peers, the classroom environment – they’re just not available at home.

Parents are going to feel the pressure, but it’s important to remember that home isn’t school. There’s a balance to be struck. You can’t just say ‘here’s your timetable. Now crack on with it!’ 

There are obvious wellbeing concerns, too. My children are lucky because they’ve got a house and garden that are big enough to run around. But it’s a major challenge for people living in restricted spaces. We’ve got to ensure that everybody’s wellbeing is looked after at what is a hugely stressful time. I noticed the other day that both my children really wanted more attention and it’s important that I can have the time to do that. Everybody needs extra reassurance at the moment.

All of these issues mean we really shouldn’t be trying to create school at home. There’s a huge pressure on head teachers to care for pupils and maintain their learning. My research of online learning is that simply piping lessons down Zoom or Skype and expecting them to engage just doesn’t work. It can take three months to develop a good online plan, so schools need the Easter break, they need time to develop. 

The other day my son’s teacher did set up a Zoom session with the class, but it wasn’t a lesson, she just brought them online to say hello to each other. I was watching his face while he was seeing his classmates popping up on the screen and he was so happy to see everyone. It was so nice, that in-person contact. Knowing people are still there even though you can’t meet up. That’s what’s needed. 

But what’s the answer for home schooling? I don’t know right now. And I think we all need to be OK with not knowing the answer at the moment.  

As far as I can see, all you can do for the moment is to do your best. My husband and I are tag-teaming: we have a white board in the kitchen – of course we do, we’re teachers! – and there’s a schedule written out about who’s going to do what when. I’m an early riser so I’ve been working 7am-10am and after that I’m ‘It’ until after lunchtime.

This afternoon I’ll hope the kids get as much school work done as they can and then they’re free to do the things they don’t need help with, like playing outside, art, music, and so on, while my husband and I do a bit more work. We’re trying to stick with that for the moment. We’ll see how it goes. 

We’re all sharing experiences and reaching out for advice at the moment. As someone who’s studied online learning I’ve had a few media requests (listen to Helena on Women’s Hour) and I’ve tried to do my best at answering parents' questions. 

We’re not having playground chit chats anymore, not bumping into teachers and other parents for a catch up, so the support networks we all rely on aren’t so obviously there. Those conversations have moved online and in some ways they’ve all become a little more visible – Twitter is alive.  

There’s no precedent for this in the UK. There’s no manual for this. And it’s good to know other people are finding it hard, too! That’s OK – reach out for that reassurance.  


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