1. The Government’s announcement about providing laptops, tablets and routers to disadvantaged families is welcome. But it must be understood that whilst resources are being made available to support learning, not every family will access and benefit from these equally.
  2. Remote learning does not replace the presence of a teacher. So, the National Education Union (NEU) will be working to develop interim arrangements to help schools to continue to support families through the summer term and into the new academic year.
  3. Home learning environments are very unequal because, going into this pandemic, UK society was deeply unequal and had a weak social security net. Learners in low-income families face barriers to accessing education in the lockdown period, such as intermittent or no access to the internet, making it harder to engage with online learning and to stay connected with friends, family, and the school community.
  4. The NEU thinks schools should not use an approach to learning at home which is solely online. Relying too heavily on online learning has drawbacks and risks for all learners, but will be impossible for children in the almost 10 per cent of households without internet access. The problem will be greater for schools in the most disadvantaged areas. The NEU thinks staff should prepare hard copies of some learning materials and activities and send them home or arrange pick up/collection. Members have found that printing out and posting worksheets to their students has helped boost engagement. Activities should aim to build upon learning already covered in school – children with limited access to the internet will find researching new topics difficult and demoralising.
  5. The NEU believes the way to support learners in families without internet access or other materials is to take a holistic approach to engagement. This means focusing on wellbeing and student motivation, promoting reading for pleasure and cross-curricular projects, which are shown to increase engagement and resilience, and to maintain relationships with key staff. 
  6. Learning at home cannot be learning as usual. Staff should not be expected to set rigidly structured lessons for pupils. We advise a flexible approach which allows staff to respond to students’ needs, with a much greater focus on mental and physical health during the summer term. Deadlines for work should be flexible, particularly for students without internet access. The NEU is asking the DfE to be clear that expectations of pupil progress cannot be applied to home learning. 
  7. Long-term, open-ended projects, which use work already completed, or are based around a programme on a Freeview TV channel or radio station, should be encouraged, and can link to many curriculum areas. It is important to reassure families that students are not expected to move through content in a standard way to ‘stay up to date’. Flexible, creative methods of learning are great ways to keep pupils engaged and motivated, but will also enable them to cope with change, the unsettling transition, and their feelings about this experience of school closure.
  8. Pupils and their parents may be finding the period of lockdown overwhelming – especially if they have difficulties staying connected, or there are several children in the home. Reassure them and set expectations that are practical: it is unrealistic to expect pupils to complete the same level of academic work as they would in the classroom, and unhealthy to send so much work home that they feel confused or unable to complete it. Regular breaks should be encouraged, as should time for physical activity and relaxation. Too much time online is not healthy. We cannot expect parents to be able to assist with all schoolwork – many will be trying to juggle childcare with working from home and may themselves need access to family devices for much of the day. Sending printed copies of work home can help alleviate pressure for screen time. The NEU has created a parent microsite to provide support and advice for parents.
  9. Some schools are setting up school community activities which can be done offline by all students, to retain a sense of belonging and connectedness, for example providing tiles for each student to decorate, or a hard copy Coronavirus Time Capsule diary. Learning resources such as paper, pens, pencils, glue sticks, craft materials and scrapbooks are not affordable for many families: if possible, supplies should be sent to families who might find it tough to get hold of learning resources.
  10. The NEU cautions against attempts to blame schools for not closing “attainment gaps” while students are at home. It is not possible for schools to wholly overcome the digital divide or counter all the disadvantages caused by deprivation, low wages, or substandard housing. The Government must urgently address the income gap and low wages of many working parents, including so many key workers. The NEU is calling on the Government to take a variety of policy steps on Universal Credit, social security, household incomes and child benefit to immediately address the financial pressures on families. See NEU Child Poverty.