'It's a struggle': three teachers on remote learning and returning to school

What are the effects on pupils of Covid lockdown and how do they feel about getting back to the classroom?

The prime minister’s spokesperson has announced that schools are not expected to fully reopen until at least early March, extending months of online teaching for many pupils.

Three teachers who are also parents spoke about their concerns over the impact of remote learning on children, and when they would feel confident re-entering the classroom.

‘My greatest concern is social interaction’

“Both as a parent and a teacher, I feel more prepared this time around,” said Amy*, a secondary school teacher in Norfolk who has two children aged two and five. “During the first wave, my daughter was sent the odd worksheet or link home from her primary school, but it wasn’t consistent. This time it feels a lot more organised.

“As a teacher, the first time round the provision we provided was not good enough, and I think honestly, most schools would say the same. We had very little warning,” she said. “This time, we have provided every student with access to the internet, and devices to access work. They have a mixture of live and pre-recorded lessons, and work set online.”

With children in primary school and a career in secondary, Amy has seen the challenges faced by different age groups.

“At primary age, it’s a struggle to get children to do literacy and numeracy, and you can’t just sit them down and ask them to work independently,” she said. “At secondary age you get a lot more engagement, except for year 11s, since they’ve been told they’re not having exams. But at that age, students are able to work independently, and they email if they’re having any problems.”

Amy’s “greatest concern” is the impact of a lack of social interaction on her students and children. Despite this, she doesn’t want schools to reopen preemptively.

“The academic side we can catch up,” she said. “Our trust has set up live form times three times a week so that the students can talk to one another, and as a parent to younger kids I’ve been setting up FaceTimes with my children’s friends.

“No teacher wants go be going through lockdown, my job is 10 times easier in a classroom, but I don’t think we should rush back. Let’s get it right so we don’t have to go through it again. It’s far more disruptive for kids to go back to school, and then back into lockdown again.”

‘The ground you make is so easily lost’

For secondary school teacher Andy Calvert, 47, in Leeds, the main concern was the impact on the educational development of children, particularly those in primary school like his eight-year-old son.

“My son is in year 3, he’s just started to get number bonds, times tables and spelling. The ground you make is so easily lost,” said Calvert, who lives and teaches in Leeds. “His teachers have been absolutely brilliant online, and I’m privileged that I can teach him certain things, but it’s a specialist job. It’s also about learning together. At my son’s age, it’s almost a team thing. He loves school and meeting his pals, and online learning is hard.

“I don’t think being a teacher always makes it easier,” he added. “While we’re privileged to be able to, we’ve had to buy a new laptop so my son could learn from home, and because we’re working full time we’re trying to juggle that and home schooling. You can’t leave a child of that age in front of a screen no matter how skilled the teacher is.”

Calvert said he wanted to see schools open, “the sooner the better”, but that the death rate was still too high for it to be a safe decision.

“When I got coronavirus back in March, we were sending 60 or 70 kids home a day,” he said. “We’ve set the bar very high for home learning, but that was when the plan was for 25 days. If this goes on until May, can you keep going? I think the system might collapse.”

‘Teaching is a profession for a reason’

“My wife was also a headteacher, and is at home with our children. All three of them are finding it hard, so if an expert professional with motivated children finds it tough then, it is many times harder for many other parents,” said Simon*, a secondary headteacher in Wales and parent to three primary school children. “The reality is that teaching is really hard, it’s a profession for a reason.”

At his own school, Simon said he was concerned about the rising number of children who were being classed as vulnerable as a result of the pandemic.

“For students who had existing issues, we’re not able to see them, so it’s harder to spot things. On a normal day, if they’re absent, it’s noticeable,” he said. “But the pandemic has also meant that lots of students who wouldn’t have fallen into the safeguarding category now do.

Even within a secondary school, Simon said the social and educational needs for children were very varied.

“Within a secondary school, you have 11-year-olds who only left primary school six months ago, and need a lot of guidance and structure at home,” he said. “Older students are more self-motivated, so you really have to tailor their provisions to the education staff they’re at. But they’re all experiencing screen burnout, and all really missing the community aspect of being at school.”

*Some names have been changed


Molly Blackall

The GuardianTramp

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