Parents demand home-schooling to be improved ahead of potential local lockdowns

Home-schooling must be significantly improved if schools are forced to close amid local lockdowns as many parents can no longer take on the teaching role, campaigners say.

Parent-led campaign group Sept for Schools has heard from parents who felt they were “on their knees” after months of remote learning, with many saying they will not do it again.

The group says parents cannot be assumed to be the back-up plan in the event of further lockdowns as home-schooling is not achievable for many.

It comes after the schools minister said the Government cannot “decree” that keeping schools open must be prioritised over pubs during local lockdowns to combat spikes in coronavirus cases.

Nick Gibb has insisted that all children will return to school in England in September, but he said the decisions to enforce closures to prevent new outbreaks will be made locally.

Sept for Schools has written to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson urging him to revise the Government guidance to ensure learning is not compromised in the event of future lockdowns.

They are calling for minimum quality thresholds for remote learning, as well as minimum standards for teacher-pupil interaction, for all schools.

More laptops and wifi access should be given to pupils and physical learning resources should be funded so schools can provide stationery and worksheets to children, the group says.

The letter adds: “Targeted support to schools must be given to help parents continuing in paid work, parents of children with SEND (special educational needs and disability), and parents who do not have English as a first language, to ensure that children’s learning is not compromised by families’ individual circumstances.”

The group – which wants all pupils to safely return to school in September – has sent examples of parents’ home-schooling experiences to Mr Williamson.

One parent said: “Juggling work and homeschooling is impossible. Working with kids full time at home is soul destroying.”

Another said: “It is not home-schooling. It is trying to hold down a full time job and somehow replace the 96 hours of schooling and paid childcare per week that usually enable that.”

Fiona Forbes, founder of Sept for Schools, said some parents did not hear from their child’s school “for weeks” during the Covid-19 lockdown.

She told the PA news agency: “Local lockdowns may happen in the future. We are realistic about that and our campaign group is not trying to push that all schools must open all the time, whatever the rate of the virus. But we are saying that education does need to be prioritised.

“The guidance from July assumes parents will once again be the backup plan, which in itself assumes that homeschooling is achievable for parents and it’s satisfactory as a means of delivering education.

“From thousands of stories I’ve got in documents – and I’ve read them all – we are quite certain it isn’t achievable by and large for many parents, particularly parents who work.”

This week, researchers implied that reopening schools in September must be combined with a high-coverage test-trace-isolate strategy to avoid a second wave of Covid-19.

Ms Forbes believes many parents will be reacting “in horror” at the idea that they may have to home-school again if schools close, as she said they had described feeling like they were “on their knees” at the end of term.

Speaking about the feedback before the summer, she added: “Parents do talk about September as ‘I can get to the end of term, just about, but I can’t do this again.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said it would welcome a discussion about how home learning can be improved “in the likely event that children will need this” next term if they have to self-isolate or schools close.

He said: “We would also like the Government to give more thought to a Plan B if there is a second national shutdown of schools, which could be based on a model of blended learning with children rotating between school and home in smaller groups.

“We fully support the full reopening of schools, but the Government is in danger of putting all its eggs in one basket, and it does need to give more consideration to alternative scenarios if these prove to be necessary.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “From September all children will return to the classroom, as we know school is the best place for teachers to educate their students, and for children to benefit from direct interaction with their friends. This includes any areas where local restrictions are currently in place.

“Parents are becoming increasingly confident in their children returning to school, which is testament to the work of school staff across the country who are putting in place a range of protective measures to prepare to welcome back all pupils at the start of term.

“We have been clear that schools need to prepare to deliver remote education in the event of pupils needing to self-isolate or local areas having to go into lockdown.”