Home-schooling: 'No expectation' on parents to teach children

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

There is no expectation that parents should lead the home education and teaching of their children, school leaders have said.

It comes after a poll for the Sutton Trust, a social mobility charity, found that only 37 per cent of working class parents felt confident teaching their children at home. This compared with 47 per cent of middle class parents.

It has deepened fears that the coronavirus crisis will worsen the attainment gap between rich and poor.

However, the Association of School and College Leaders sought to reassure families this week that there is no expectation on parents to teach their children, rather schools should be providing schemes of work and resources, with parents playing a supporting role.

This echoes guidance for parents published by the National Education Union (NEU), which states: “You are not expected to become teachers and recreate the classroom at home.” The NEU instead urges parents to focus on other activities and supporting their children's wellbeing.

The Sutton Trust survey, which was conducted between April 1 and 3, involved more than 1,500 parents and found that richer families are more likely to have spent money on materials for home education, some as much as £150 or even £200 per child. However, 52 per cent of the parents have spent nothing additional on home education.

More affluent parents are also more likely to have started new online tuition for their children, the research reveals.

The Sutton Trust has already warned about the likely widening of the disadvantage gap during the coronavirus lockdown in a paper published last week (Montacute, 2020).

In it, one of the main barriers facing poorer families and which schools will need to tackle is access to resources and online learning. The paper points to previous Sutton Trust research showing that 34 per cent of children do not have access to their own computer/tablet that they can use to get online at home. Poorer families also have smaller homes and therefore a lack of quiet study space for children.

The paper states: “Looking at ways to ensure all children can access online learning, including providing access to the required resources, will be important in the coming months to minimise the impact of this crisis on the attainment gap.”

It adds: “Some schools have also been working to provide hard copy versions of resources to their students. While this work is welcome, it is unlikely to be able to make up fully for a lack of access to online resources.”

It points to possible solutions, suggesting a fund from government, businesses or charity to help to supply the necessary equipment. It also suggests possible catch-up sessions for disadvantaged students when schools re-open.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, is “particularly concerned” about the impact of the current lockdown on disadvantaged families and “the potential for this situation to further widen educational gaps between rich and poor”.

Responding to the poll, he said: “We would reassure all parents that there is no expectation to home-school their children, and their efforts are best directed at supporting learning by helping children to structure their day with breaks for exercise, and activities such as reading, using learning resources like BBC Bitesize and watching educational TV programmes.

“Schools will continue to provide pupils with schemes of work and teachers are doing a very good job at delivering these remotely.”

The NEU guidance recommends that teachers should set enough work for two to three hours of learning a day for pupils, depending on their circumstances. It urges parents, meanwhile, to consider what other activities they can undertake with their children.

It states: “Creative activities like colouring, puzzles, jigsaws, Lego, imaginative play and so on, are highly educational and beneficial to mental health and wellbeing.

“Schools should provide a list of flexible tasks that cover different areas of the curriculum. Allow your child to choose the tasks that interest them, and the ones you feel you can manage. Don’t worry if this approach doesn’t work. Leave it and do something less formal or more relaxing. Watching TV programmes such as documentaries and drama, reading, playing together and talking, are all educational too."

The guidance adds: Normal education has been suspended at this time and neither schools nor parents/carers can, or should, replicate the regular school day.

“You are not expected to become teachers and recreate the classroom at home. Many children need a lot of guidance and cannot be left for long periods of time to complete complex tasks. We are asking schools to suggest activities that children can complete on their own, in recognition that parents and carers might struggle to assist with schoolwork for various reasons. Most schools are sending suggested work and activities home to help parents and carers keep their children engaged in learning.”

It also urges parents to focus on their own and their children's wellbeing: "Taking care of your physical and mental health is crucial at this time: this goes for children, parents/carers and teachers. Keeping minds active and happy is most important. Spending some time each day outdoors for fresh air and exercise is really important; laughing and eating together are things your child will remember."

The National Association of Head Teachers has also reassured families that as things begin to settle down, schools will identify more effective ways to guide learning at home.

General secretary Paul Whiteman said: “Schools have faced enormous challenges as they have had to fundamentally transform how they operate in a matter of days. The first priority for any school has to be the safety and wellbeing of their pupils, especially those who are still attending school.

"As we move forward, schools will be beginning to identify ways to support pupils’ learning at home. This will require careful thought and there are a wide range of factors to consider, including differences in the availability of technology in homes and online safety. Schools will be acutely aware that each family is unique and not all parents will be able to offer the same levels of support.”

For its part, the Sutton Trust is now calling for high-quality online tuition to be made available for disadvantaged pupils, funded through a voucher scheme or through a network of quality-assured tutoring providers.

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: “The home learning environment has never been more important, but as the polling shows less than half of parents feel confident about teaching their child at home. Better-off parents are more able than poorer families to spend money on resources and support for their children. To reduce the impact of school closures on the most disadvantaged pupils, we’d like to see high-quality online tuition available to the most disadvantaged pupils.”

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