School is like a ghost town. Where once there were hundreds, now there are but a handful of keyworkers’ children and those who, for various reasons, are classed as vulnerable, and meet the criteria for being allowed in school during lockdown.
The staff ratios would usually be the envy of us all, 4 adults to look after about 10 children. The freedom to do activities which the prescriptive and often joyless national curriculum would not allow due to time, space, and box-ticking restraints, has been marvellous. Children who struggle in a normal classroom setting are now able to work at their own pace, gaining confidence and independence. Each group of staff on rota brings their own skills and knowledge; the children benefit from their variety and creativity, and from working with children and adults they would not normally have worked with.
While this goes on for “the few”, “the many” have online learning at home. Staff create new work each week, which goes on the school website and Google Classrooms, where children post their work and chat to their classmates in a safe online environment. As with any “one-size-fits-all” work model, it doesn’t work for everyone.
Teachers will often make their own tasks up to send directly to individual parents or children which are more fun than the whole-year-group things from the school website, so they can be engaged but not overwhelmed by work. There’ll be phone calls home to check on children we haven’t heard from for a while, laptops lent out to those children without; work on paper hand-delivered or posted to children whose families are without the internet.
There are hours of replying to children’s emails about their work, helping parents with technical issues with online learning, and often just being an outlet for parents’ frustrations and hardships. Keeping parents whose children would receive free school meals up to date with their food vouchers has also been a huge help to many families.
Online learning has many unexpected benefits: I have been able to see how hard many parents work for their children and how much they enjoy their time with them to help them achieve their potential. I have seen the creativity of parents who, while terrified at the idea of home learning at first, have learnt to embrace the madness and come up with amazing activities to do with their children. I’ve seen artistic and creative writing skills improve without the time constraints of the 1-hour lesson in school. I have had so many grey days of my own isolation lifted by the incredible work the children have sent, and their wonderful comments they send with it.
Of course, the national tragedy is that there will be thousands of children in families right now with no effort made to do any form of learning for two months, children for whom school is the only place they can see positive role models, both child and adult. There is a sense of helplessness for staff for these children, so all we can do is keep up the phone calls, the emails and the home deliveries coming to let them know they are gone, but not forgotten. As ever in teaching, you get to see the finest and saddest sides of humanity. One big misconception is that these will be the poorer families; this is false. Many parents who show least interest in their child’s education or in teaching them positive values are from perfectly affluent backgrounds; it is often the parents who struggle most who most passionately work for the very best for their child.
My favourite aspect of lockdown learning has been the time to send so many messages of positivity to children and their parents, which we don’t get the chance to do in school as much as we’d like. Particularly for the quiet heroes of the class who come in, put a good shift in without any bother every day and are just top people, it’s great to have the time to say how much we appreciate them.
To every adult who has worked so hard to make this lockdown as happy and rewarding as possible for children, thank-you all.