Mere semantics?

One subtle change eagle-eyed parents might pick up on next week is the subtle change in language to describe what schools provide for children (with adult support) to do while schools ar e closed and the child is cared for at home.

National data shows that 97% of pupils are not at school, despite nearly 10% or adults being ‘key workers’. At our school we have about 6% of pupils attending.

Though school is closed we all (well, all the adults at any rate) want to see children continuing to learn. We know (because maths tells us) that children’s attainment takes a backward step during the long simmer holiday. If (and I have no extra knowledge on this despite being a Headteacher) schools stay shut from March right through to September (or later) then children will have missed four months of school and then had another six weeks of holiday time – no formal teaching and learning for five and a half months. There will be a huge drop-off in knowledge, skills and everything else we develop in school, we might assume. So we want to keep children doing something positive in the meantime.

We of course recognise the variation there is bound to be across the range of families we have – some will do lots, some will do little, and some will do next to none. The guidance on who should attend school provision at this time does not place those ‘next to none’ children in the vulnerable group who can be invited into school. They may simply fall behind.

Guidance and direction for schools does not make it a requirement that we provide distance learning. There are many details about safeguarding and online safety, but there is no direction or suggestion about quantity, duration or nature of what schools might send out to families to support learning at home. So we could send none and be within the margin of error! Some schools may well be streaming lessons from teachers. Some will be providing detailed learning through online platforms. Some will be giving weblinks and using platforms for two-way communication.

Some parents are experiencing the Facebook boasting phenomena and feeling lesser by comparison, and yet others would like us to provide still more than we do already.

Those parents who are ‘working from home’ will find it difficult, to say the least, to do both well. How do they give both their work and their child’s learning sufficient attention? The answer is probably that they simply cannot.

So, this change in language. People, both in schools and at home, have talked about ‘home schooling’ for the last three weeks. Except they have not been doing this at all. They have had two weeks of school holiday, and I do wish that that was noticed – the children should have just had time off. And the one other week was not it either. ‘Home Schooling’ is actually where parents choose not to take up their right to access a formal school place for their child and they educate at home. Around 60,000 children are currently ‘educated at home’ in England. There is a process of checks to ensure safety and safeguarding, but no formal curriculum exists, no assessments are required, no terms are fixed. It is supposed to educate, but it is the parent’s choice how and when and what.

The current situation has not been a choice for a single parent. Children are not being ‘home schooled’ and are not taking part in ‘education at home’ in that formally defined way, but maybe they should adopt more of that freedom to choose.

We are being directed in Sheffield to use the phrase ‘learning at home’. The parents are likely not teachers. Homes are not schools. Households do not offer the same range of opportunities. The same chances to learn social skills do not exist in social distancing.

We will continue to offer some suggestions that we hope will keep children ticking over, help keep them edu-tained, and help parents fill the days for their children. But we will make neither insistence nor any assumptions about involvement, coverage or quality of learning.

Days at school for those few attending no not look too much like school either. Children at home are not missing out on formal education and are not falling behind in curriculum coverage. Do not fret or panic or stress if your child is not doing six hours a day; most likely few are. We will return to offering ideas for ‘learning at home’ on Tuesday next week.

Stay safe.

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