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Learning (or not) from afar: the first week of school closures

30 March 2020

Last week was the first full week of school closures. What happened? Here’s what you said…

1 .You’ve been staying fit!

Two weeks ago, who would have guessed that one advantage of being cooped up, possibly with young children, whilst trying to hold down a job, would be that you’d EXERCISE!

Three-quarters of you with your own primary-aged children took an online fitness class last week. Almost always, it was aimed at children. Let us guess, was it… PE With Joe?!?

2. We’re nearly all at home

The school closures ended up being sudden, chaotic and uncertain. Without any clear idea of how many children would turn up for childcare, many heads asked a lot of their teachers to go into school last Monday, only to find that they had relatively few children of key workers to look after. In 47% of primaries and 71% of secondaries less than 5% of your usual pupil cohort turned up on Monday.

As the week went on, about 1-in-5 primary teachers attended school on any given day as did around 1-in-10 secondary teachers. We’ll see whether that persists as time goes on.

Before it happened, there were a lot of concerns about the burden of running remote schools, but these aren’t being borne out in the data. Only teachers in the private sector are now working longer hours (presumably because they are under pressure to demonstrate they can provide a service that justifies the fees). The typical classroom teacher in the state sector reported working much shorter hours than usual last week, and there are even more headteachers who report they are working shorter rather than longer hours.

Of course, it might be that home circumstances are making work impossible. Whilst those with preschoolers are most frequently reporting they worked shorter hours, a substantial proportion of those with no children did too. Notably, it was the teachers with slightly older children – aged 9 to 16 – who seemed to be facing the largest workload.

3. The work we are setting

We asked you to think of a class you normally teach on Thursday and the work that had been set for them. Private schools were much more likely to report time-intensive ‘live’ interactions with the class during the school day, whether via video conferencing or messaging. At the other extreme, many state primaries simply sent home worksheets or posted instructions on a web page as they do not have an online platform.

4. Why inequalities will increase

Ok, the work is set. But are students actually doing it?! From afar, it is hard for teachers to know what pupils are doing, particularly where work hasn’t yet been collected in. But your early perceptions are very stark.

We asked secondary teachers about Year 8. In private schools, both the expectation and the belief about the amount of work being completed were high. Most teachers felt students were completing at least 3 or 4 hours of study a day.

Within the state sector, beliefs about how much work students *should* be doing didn’t differ too much by demographics of school The vast majority felt 3 or 4 hours a day would be ideal for a 13-year-old. However, only a minority of state teachers felt this was being reached and there were obvious social differences in responses. In the most advantaged state schools, just 14% of teachers felt their students were doing less than an hour a day. In the most disadvantaged state schools, 43% felt their students were doing less than an hour of learning per day. This is a huge difference.

The pattern is very similar for primary students, though most teachers (except private school ones) agree that 1 or 2 hours a day is sufficient for them. (Which is lucky since these children require parental supervision to get pretty much anything done!)

For those teaching in the most disadvantaged schools, 55% fely children were doing less than an hour a day versus just 13% and 26% in private and state primaries with the most affluent intakes, respectively.

Is there anything we can do to support students living in lower-income communities? One solvable issue is a lack of access to suitable devices and Internet. It is clearly a bigger problem in poorer communities, though it is worth noting that most teachers perceive this as an issue affecting only a minority of their students. Typically, fewer than 10% of children don’t have device or internet access, even in the most disadvantaged communities. How this gets solved, however, is difficult – as it would require technology companies to work together (and the government to be more interventionist than it typically chooses to be).

If you are interested in this blog, you can get all the data for it from here:

5. We know you love the daily reads on the Teacher Tapp app, so here’s the links for last week’s tips….