Saturday, 20 June 2020

Educatio, Education, Education

A family from the Borders shares their experience about the lack of learning and teaching support during the long months of lockdown.

Seems to me that the more parents who speak out the better for all concerned.

Because it is plain for all to see that education has not been a big priority it's often made out to be, by both the Scottish Government and Scotland's 32 local councils.

Coronavirus in Scotland: Pupils have no face-to-face teaching for three months

By August, Alex Corbishley’s three daughters — aged seven, nine and 11 — will have gone six months without direct contact with their school teachers

By Arthi Nachiappan - The Times

A university lecturer has criticised his local authority and the Scottish government, saying that his three children have not received any online face-to-face teaching for more than three months.

Alex Corbishley, 36, said teachers and pupils were being “really badly failed” by the handling of schooling during the pandemic, singling out the lack of online teaching.

“They should be providing schools with a lot more support. I speak to teachers who are desperate to engage with their pupils and are really missing them. We have had regular communication with the headmistress who is very understanding. For me, the problem lies above the school,” he said.

Mr Corbishley works full-time and lives with his wife, Ailsa, a midwife, and three daughters in Peebles, in the Borders. Hattie, 11, Bella, nine, and Cecily, seven, study at the same school.

“All we are getting is a learning grid each week that gives us content we are supposed to do with the children. The older kids have work they are supposed to do through Microsoft Teams. There are no audio or video calls and there are no hours where you know the teachers will be there or not there to answer questions.”

Like thousands of others, the Corbishleys now face the prospect in August of their children having gone for six months without any direct contact with their teachers.

Mr Corbishley gets up at 5.45am on a typical weekday to work for a couple of hours before his daughters wake up, before getting them dressed and fed. “I then ask them to do some worksheets, then my Zoom calls start up at 9am and I have days of back-to-back calls where I don’t leave my office.

“I then pop in and out of the office to haul them back from their Lego or whatever they’ve been distracted doing. But unless you’re with them or engaging them they can’t really stay focused.” He added: “The older kid is more independent and she’s just doing her own learning now. I have told her that if she gets halfway through the maths textbooks we’ve bought her, I’ll buy her a hamster.

“I should be doing so much more for my kids but when you have worked a full day, and often work bleeds into the evenings and early mornings, you don’t have time to do as much you would like.”

In a survey of 6,000 parents, Connect, the Scottish parent-teacher group, found that two thirds of parents said they either could not manage part-time schooling for their children in August, or they would struggle to manage. Almost half of respondents said their family would be negatively affected by part-time schooling, with the most common concerns being around their children’s education and mental health.

Mr Corbishley’s three girls have been struggling with feeling isolated from their friends during the lockdown. “They love their school and they love their friends so they’re definitely missing it,” he said. “Hattie is moving to her high school this year so there have been plenty of tears.”

Education, Education, Education (18/0620)

I didn't realise that Glasgow City Council had cancelled all committee meetings back in March because of the Coronavirus epidemic.

Scotland's MPs (largely SNP of course) have been complaining bitterly in recent days about the Westminster parliament in London resuming normal business - instead of continuing with virtual meetings via Zoom and other social media platforms.

Yet Scotland's largest (and SNP led) council seems to have given up on using social media as a way of keeping on top of hugely important issues such as the all lack of learning and teaching amongst Glasgow's school children- see post below 'What's the Story in Scotland's Schools?'

For example, the Daily Record reports that Glasgow's Education Committee hasn't met since 12 March and to add insult to injury I understand the city council has ruled out the use of Zoom to provide extra teaching support for children during lockdown.

The poet WB Yeats once said 'Education is not the filling of a pot but the lighting of a fire' - yet the performance of the Scottish Government and Scottish councils tends to suggest otherwise.

Council education committees have not met in months to discuss re-opening schools

Committees were suspended in March, but critics say virtual meetings would be possible.

By Paul Hutcheon - Daily Record

Council education committees have failed to meet in the last three months to discuss the future of schooling.

Some are only scheduled to meet in August - even though education is one of the key issues of the pandemic.

Calls have been made for the committees to be kickstarted to scrutinise unpopular plans for combining home and school learning.

Martin McElroy, a Labour councillor in Glasgow, said: “The technology already exists that would allow these meetings to go ahead safely. If the local knitting club in my community has the wherewithal to meet remotely, why not Glasgow City Council?”

John Swinney, the Education Secretary, recently announced plans for schools to reopen on August 11th.

His proposed ‘blended’ model of education, split between face-to-face and home learning, is worrying parents who fear they will struggle to juggle work and schooling.

Councils are responsible for producing local reopening plans and some of the ‘part time’ schooling proposals have caused anger.

Many council committees, including on education, were suspended in March in response to the pandemic.

However, there are concerns this has increased the power of senior officers in local authorities at the expenses of councillors.

Glasgow council’s education committee last met on March 12th and the next meeting, according to the council website, is scheduled for mid-August.

McElroy said: “Most councillors in Glasgow feel excluded from the key decisions being made. It’s been over there months since most scrutiny committees have met. Frankly it is an affront to democracy.”

Aberdeen council’s education committee last met on March 12th and an “urgent business” committee was set up. This has met twice in around three months.

The relevant committees in South Lanarkshire and Fife councils met in March and February.

A spokesperson for Fife said there had been “additional elected member oversight” on their draft schools plan.

A spokesperson for South Lanarkshire said they had engaged with councillors in drawing up their plans.

Education expert Keir Bloomer said: “I would expect the committees to be meeting virtually. If they are not, that’s unfortunate.”

A spokesperson for council umbrella group COSLA said: “At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic many councils temporarily suspended governance arrangements to ensure that emergency support for communities could be put in place as quickly as possible.

“Elected members have continued their role in oversight and scrutiny of this work through emergency committees and the majority of Councils have either returned to normal governance structures remotely or working towards that goal just now."

A spokesperson for Glasgow council said:

"The city’s Emergency Committee approved temporary decision-making arrangements at a meeting on March 17.

"Members suspended nearly all committees until further notice; with the exception of the City Administration Committee – which initially met with a reduced membership, but is now meeting remotely with its full membership.

"Under the arrangements unanimously approved by members, senior officials are authorised to use their existing delegated powers to deal with a range of matters in consultation with the appropriate City Convener or Committee Convener."

"That notwithstanding, it has never been the role of policy development committees to manage what are operational decisions."

What's the Story in Scotland's Schools? (17/06/20)

Here's an interesting article from the BBC highlighting a recent educational research report which suggests that significant numbers of children in England's schools are losing out as a result of the Coronavirus epidemic. 

I suspect the figures are broadly similar in Scotland as well, but as far as I know there is no comparable study to compare what has been going on in Scottish schools and local councils.

I imagine it would be helpful for the Scottish Government to gather and publicise this information, but the educational establishment north of the border is notoriously sensitive about publishing comparative data.

So the policy makers in Scotland seem likely to be thrashing about in the dark for quite some time to come.


Coronavirus: A third of pupils 'not engaging with work'
By Katherine Sellgren - BBC
Image copyright - GETTY IMAGES Image caption - A lack of personal interaction with teachers is one of the many ways children are missing out

The vast majority of teachers (90%) say their pupils are doing less or much less work than they would normally at this time of the year, a study finds.

The report by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) says head teachers believe around a third of pupils are not engaging with set work.

Limited or no access to technology was a problem for around a quarter (23%) of pupils, school leaders told the NFER.

The government says it has committed over £100m to help home learning.

The NFER report is based on findings from a survey of 1,233 school leaders and 1,821 teachers in England's state schools, carried out between 7 and 17 May.

It raises particular concern about the impact of school closures, due to Covid 19, on the learning of pupils from the most disadvantaged areas, saying pupil engagement is lower in schools with the highest levels of deprivation.
Secondary schools with the highest number of children eligible for free school meals reported that 48% of pupils were engaged with learning activities, compared with 66% and 77% of pupils at schools in the middle and lowest brackets.

Teachers told researchers the following pupils were finding it particularly difficult to engage in remote learning, compared to their peers:
  • those with limited access to technology and/or study space
  • vulnerable children
  • those with special educational needs and disabilities
  • and young carers. 
Parents' engagement

Teachers say just over half (55%) of their pupils' parents are engaged with their children's home learning, according to the report.

But teachers from the most deprived schools report a lower parental engagement, at 41%, than those from the least deprived schools, at 62%.
Image copyright - GETTY IMAGES Image caption - There is concern that many young people are disengaging without the school routine

NFER chief executive Carole Willis said: "There are considerable differences in the levels of pupil engagement in remote learning, particularly amongst the most disadvantaged pupils."

There is a risk that the attainment gap will widen as a result of the pandemic, she added, calling for a "comprehensive and long-term plan to address this issue".

Josh Hillman, director of education at the Nuffield Foundation, which funded the research, said: "The shift to remote learning during lockdown has made the implications of children and young people's unequal access to IT equipment and connectivity even more stark."

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the heads' union ASCL, backed a national plan "to help these children to catch up".

"This analysis shows that children who already face the greatest challenges have suffered the worst impact to their learning during the lockdown, and that the digital divide is largely to blame."

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "We will do whatever we can to make sure no child, whatever their background, falls behind as a result of coronavirus.

"We are also considering, with a range of partner organisations, what more is required to support all pupils who have been affected by school closures."

'A generation losing out'

The NFER study comes as a research paper from University College London's Institute of Education finds pupils across the UK are studying for an average of 2.5 hours a day during lockdown.

This figure is about half that indicated by a previous survey by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, suggesting that learning losses could be much greater than previously thought.

The UCL research, which examined data from a UK household longitudinal study covering 4,559 children, says one fifth of pupils (around two million children in the UK) did no schoolwork or less than an hour a day at home, while 17% put in more than four hours a day.

It finds that the variability in the amount of schoolwork being done at home is adding to existing regional and socioeconomic inequalities, with pupils in London, the South East of England and Northern Ireland receiving more offline schoolwork, such as assignments, worksheets and watching videos, than elsewhere in the UK.

In the South East, for example, 28% of children were receiving four or more pieces of offline schoolwork per day, compared with the countrywide average of 20%. 
The report also says children eligible for free school meals "appear to be additionally disadvantaged during lockdown", with 15% receiving four or more pieces of offline schoolwork compared with 21% of children not eligible for free meals.

Prof Francis Green, who led the research, said it "painted a gloomy picture of lost schooling and low amounts of schoolwork at home".

"The closure of schools, and their only-partial re-opening, constitute a potential threat to the educational development of a generation of children.

"Everyone is losing out in this generation, some much more than others.

"Better home schoolwork provision, and better still an early safe return to school for as many as possible, should now become a top priority for government."

Education, Education, Education (16/06/20)

The First Minister has been stung into action after the Scottish Government was heavily criticised for its lack of ambition in getting schools back to full-time teaching again. 

Just the other day the media were reporting that Scotland's school pupils might return for only one week in three, but Nicola Sturgeon has been forced to step in and say that this amount of classroom time is "not good enough". 

As ever the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, but having spoken to friends with school age children my understanding is that the level of teaching support has been patchy, poor even in some council areas since schools were first closed back on 20 March 2020.

So this generation of Scotland's school children clearly have an awful lot of catching up to do.


Scotland's Schools - A Top Priority? (13/06/20)

Scotland's schools will not get back to teaching until 11 August 2020 and when they do school pupils will only be taught for one week in three, after missing out on their regular lessons since March.

The level of support for parents during lockdown has varied enormously with some councils providing little if any practical support to parents and children via virtual, online teaching. 

So I do struggle to see how such an unambitious policy lives up to the Scottish Government's declaration that 'Education, Education, Education' is at the heart of its agenda.


Scotland coronavirus: Pupils will go back for one week in three

Nursery and primary schools will ensure that siblings attend on the same day, but secondaries are likely to group pupils by year group - JAMES GLOSSOP FOR THE TIMES

By David McCann - The Times

Pupils returning to classrooms in Edinburgh and Aberdeen will attend school for one week in three under plans to resume conventional teaching.

In the capital lessons will take place from Mondays to Thursdays, with children attending for the whole day. Fridays will be used by staff to support home learning.

Nursery and primary schools will ensure that siblings attend on the same day, but secondaries are likely to group pupils by year group.

In Aberdeen schools will start the term on August 11 and pupils in Edinburgh will go back on August 10, one week earlier than originally planned.

John Swinney, the Scottish education secretary, urged schools to exercise “sensitivity” if pupils returned without their full uniform, because going out to buy one in lockdown “may be not that essential”.

Mr Swinney was appearing before the education committee and said that the head of his son’s primary school had told parents: “Don’t be in such a hurry to go and buy the school uniform.”

Education, Education, Education! (28/04/20)

The Times reports that minds are beginning to focus on how to get life back to some kind of normality in Scotland's schools.

Now if I were John Swinney, Scotland's education minister, I would be looking to cancel the normal summer break (25 June to 12 August) and use this time to test out new ways of working - not least because the traditional summer holiday season is a 'bust' anyway. 

Some schools have remained open during lockdown, of course, supporting vulnerable children and the children of essential workers, so there must surely be important lessons to be learned and shared from this experience.

The 'new normal' seems likely to involve different ways of working involving social distancing and perhaps more remote learning, so keeping schools open over the summer makes sense for all kinds of practical reasons. 

School teachers and school students could still take a 2 or 3 week break if they wish, since schools will not to be operating at full capacity while trying out new ideas and different methods of working. 

The other thing I'd do, if I were Mr Swinney, would be to get Education Scotland and certain local councils to explain why they cannot make use of live web conferencing platforms.

Because it seems ridiculous to me that some Scottish   councils have said local schools can't use this kind of technology which sounds odd. 

So how about naming some names, Mr Swinney?


Coronavirus in Scotland: Holidays may change to let pupils return to classroom

School summer holiday dates could be moved to compensate for lost teaching time - Photo MATT CARDY/GETTY IMAGES

By Helen Puttick - The Times

Children across Scotland face having their summer holidays changed to compensate for classroom teaching they have missed.

John Swinney, the Scottish education secretary and deputy first minister, is considering a plan to bring pupils back to schools earlier in August.

The move may be necessary if a resurgence of Covid-19 is expected in the colder months, potentially leading to a return of some lockdown measures, according to Mr Swinney.

He revealed the measure was under consideration as grave questions were raised about the quality of home education provided by Scotland’s state schools. While pupils at private schools in Scotland are being taught directly by their teachers using live web conferencing platforms, some local authorities have told state schools they cannot follow suit.

Councils claim they cannot offer live teaching via video under guidelines issued by Education Scotland (ES), the government agency. ES insists it is for local authorities to decide.

Surveys show parents are struggling to cope with the demands of working at home while supervising home learning and trying to sustain the family’s mental health. Three quarters of parents who responded to one poll revealed they were struggling.

Mr Swinney said the idea of closing schools for a prolonged period was “horrifying” but had to be done, and said moving school summer holiday dates had not been ruled out: “We need to look at every option that enables us to navigate our way through this.”

Emphasising the advice of public health experts would be crucial in the decision-making, he added: “We do not yet know what the autumn and winter will be like with Covid. There may well be an argument for saying that there might be a need to get schools in earlier than when they would generally normally resume in August because of that and because young people have missed out on formal schooling.”

He added: “These are subjects that we are exploring with our partners to establish what is the most appropriate steps to take forward.”

Mr Swinney robustly defended the quality of home learning being offered, saying schools had done an “outstanding job” adapting to the new circumstances. Asked about using web conferencing platforms for direct teaching, he said: “Schools will make their judgment about what is the best way to interact with their pupils. I have seen a number of examples where pupils are interacting [with teachers] one to one.”