Going in the right 'Direction'?

Schools were told by DfE, back in July, what the expectation would be for ‘home learning’ (or ‘blended learning’ as it has also become known). Quite fairly they want to see every school earn its funding and fulfil each child’s right to a high quality education that meets the child’s needs if pupils of any number are not in school because of coronavirus outbreaks or infection.

The guidance says that schools need to be ready (by last Wednesday, in fact) to provide such remote learning ‘immediately’. There’s detail but a good portion of fudge – so much so that schools have still to work out quite what t means and here in Sheffield we have still to receive a local interpretation or detail of a minimum offer.

At our school we have been discussing the implications and possibilities at senior leadership level. The discussion will move to Governors’ Committees next week, to consider the costs of what is implied and needed. There are inherent difficulties in meeting the national expectation, not least a 180 degree disagreement over what might be the most difficult scenario. DfE thinks it will be when whole ‘bubbles’ are sent home to isolate; we think it will be when individual pupils only are off and isolating, or small groups, with the teacher still working at school teaching the rest of the class / ‘bubble’. Because in that situation, how is the teacher to both teach the class – perhaps 27 out of 30 children (full time) – and the three children who are at home? How is the class teacher supposed to be in daily contact with those children, to set up their learning for the day, and later to review progress, and also run their full-time class at exactly the same time? And if one is supposed to be done ‘asynchronously’ (i.e. recorded earlier and emailed out) when do they do that extra work? How are schools meant to fulfil their duties on staff welfare and well-being and at the same time expect teachers to work two jobs concurrently?

It seems to us that we will simply need to employ an extra teacher per year group, to provide all that work and contact, but without any increase in school income.

This is more of a problem than simply money – we are also concerned about online access at home in a way that is more fundamental and likely more widespread than the anticipated ‘digital divide’. Take the family with, say, three children who are isolating as a household. Do they have three devices and enough bandwidth to access what their schools provide? Can they all watch in at 9 o’clock if the teachers broadcast at the same time? Can they research, write up, play and feedback for five hours each (as the guidance suggests a full day of activities)?

But last night it got serious – last night the Secretary of State issued a ‘Direction’ that means instead of these being ‘guidance’ they have become a legal expectation, through the emergency Coronavirus legislation that gives extra, swift powers to government. Without detail or examples (a webcast is available next week, ‘limited’ to 10,000 viewers!) we cannot yet know what the law actually expects. These things usually sound and read as though they were intended for Secondary Schools (can we expect parents in their kitchens to provide reception children with the equipment needed for experiential learning of the range, detail and length they would have through professionals in school settings?) so we will want interpretation locally, and a conversation with local colleagues to see what they are actually doing.

Making it law is an interesting step, though – the wording has not changed but it has become a requirement rather than an expectation.

And that’s all very well and good, but I still do not see how the class teacher in my school is going to both teach the class and teach the children at home, all while we protect ‘bubbles’ and minimise mixing.

Your thoughts, as ever, will be welcome.

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