This is not education as normal. We believe schools’ goal during this time must be to keep students connected to a range of learning, by making sure that learning is relevant and based on students’ experience. Evidence from education in emergency zones shows starting from students’ individual needs and experiences is what works. We are asking the Department for Education (DfE) to create a transitional phase, which could remain in place for longer than anticipated. In this period, learning must be realistic, taking into account that teachers have children at home with them and many parent/carers are working, not ‘home-schooling’ their children.
Being clear with students and families about what is expected of them and what the school is able to provide will help everyone feel more in control and less stressed by the current uncertainty. Teaching children at home is not the job of parents/carers, supporting children’s learning is an additional responsibility. Teaching is a highly skilled role and, while some parent/carers will feel quite confident in supporting their children’s learning, many will not be able to do this. The NEU recognises that a large proportion of independent (fee paying) schools are operating a near full timetable of lessons, where full participation is expected. While this is not possible for all of their pupils, we are providing support for our members in those schools and have provided further guidance here.
Consolidation is the goal
It is hugely valuable for schools to support students to develop habits of learning at home in a way that consolidates learning and reinforces existing content and understanding. We do not want pupils to worry about learning or about progress they think others are making. Instead they should be reassured that as we get back to a new normal after the transition phase, their school will help them to adjust. Teachers and support staff should think of and frame distance learning as an opportunity for pupils to work independently or in small groups, on things they are familiar with and gently introduce some new ideas.
References to “missed work” or “lost time” or “catch up” will increase anxiety. For as many as half your pupils, any independent working will be extremely challenging or impossible. Instead, consolidated learning could include, for example, quizzes and extension challenges on humanities topics learned before lockdown, such as Vikings or rivers; practice questions, extension challenges and practical application of maths work already taught, such as fractions, length, time; or reading other books by an author read in class, making comparisons of themes, characters and so on.
Realistic approach to assessment
When a teacher gives a pupil formative feedback on classwork, they know and understand the learning that led to that piece of work and the circumstances in which it was done. This is not the case for work done at home. Older children may receive more feedback on work from their subject teachers, where appropriate, but this needs to be kept proportionate to the teacher’s circumstances and the work being done. Feedback should generally be short, supportive and encouraging. It does not need to be daily, or even weekly. Other communication, such as general praise for engagement in schoolwork, opportunities to share other activities, encouragement, etc. is just as important.
This is a period of emergency, which means we need to enable teachers to focus on positive relationships with students and attempting reasonable routines, rather than making linear progress. It will help teachers to seek feedback from parents/carers and students and adjust their practice in response, where appropriate. For most teachers and pupils in state-funded schools, a full programme of distance teaching and learning has been shown to be unrealistic and too complex. The Sutton Trust has found that most children are not accessing learning or returning work set by schools. To forge ahead in this manner is to ignore the reality of how challenging it is for students to find the motivation, space or equipment to study at home day in, day out.
How to develop a culturally responsive pedagogy
Read this research summary, from the NEU series called Research to Reflect On. This summary gives an overview of the importance of valuing the cultural world of our pupils because it is so central to learning. If we value and incorporate the cultural identities and histories of our students within teaching practices, this empowers students intellectually, socially, emotionally and politically. It also enhances students' cognitive development and self -esteem, which is always important, but is particularly so given the context of Covid.
How to respond to students living in poverty
Read this research summary, from the NEU series called Research to Reflect On. This summary gives an easy to read overview of helpful practice for supporting children and families experiencing poverty.