Lockdown is no fun for anyone, but spare a thought for those of us with kids. The third lockdown has, once again, made full-time teachers of parents. But this time, things are much harder. Why? Because during the current restrictions, teachers have been turned into a sort of truancy police force.
‘Important information. If your child is working from home, they MUST register online daily by 9:00 by submitting at least one assignment….a follow up attendance phone call will be made for those pupils who have not submitted.’
This was the text I received several times last week from my two elder children’s school. Of course it's right that kids still received their education. But we need to be realistic about the demands being put on working parents when it comes to ensuring children login on time each day.
During the last two lockdowns, my children's schools acted as a sort of support facility for home learning. We were provided with the tools and it was left to our discretion as to how best to use them to keep our kids up to speed, as well as how to organise all of that around both our children’s lives and our own work schedules.
This time, though, things are different. And, as you can tell from that text, parents are being put under pressure. Now, the kids are expected to be in an online school from 9am until 3.30pm every weekday, with assignments to be completed in an order, with time specific deadlines for each. If things are not completed according to the schedule, the school calls you to reprimand you.
Yet while the intentions are no doubt good, the reality is that this makes trying to work from home, already tricky with the kids, almost impossible. Scheduling work and home schooling your children by balancing the needs of both is no longer allowed; for the majority of the working day, we now need to be teachers, all while somehow doing our jobs at the same time.
I don’t blame the school or the teachers in the slightest for this. When they do ring to tell you off because an assignment hasn’t been done according to the schedule, there is always an apologetic tone. On one call this week, the teacher on the other end even described the whole process as ‘Orwellian’. ‘I can see what all of the children are doing, when they are online doing their work, when they aren’t,’ they told me.
No, I lay the blame squarely at the foot of the Department for Education and, more specifically, Gavin Williamson himself. This new way of trying to keep learning going while the plague has shut the schools bears all the signs of not being thought about very much at all. It feels like something arranged in a panic, the direct result of not even considering schools would need to be shut until the very last moment.
If you think my complaints have a middle-class air about them, I can only imagine what working-class parents must be going through right now. How is a household with a plumber, a data entry clerk and two kids supposed to navigate the current situation? If anyone reading this thinks that we all have our crosses to bear during this crisis, I would answer back that you are simply letting a bad Tory education secretary who has made a mess of this off the hook.
Keeping your kids focused on work for six-and-a-half hours a day is really difficult. Being a teacher – as if we needed Covid to tell us this – is a really tough job. The only thing that is tougher is trying to be a teacher and hold down another job at the same time. What we had going during the first lockdown wasn’t perfect, but it was probably the best possible solution. The school does what it can to provide us with the materials to home educate; we, in turn, do our best to teach our kids while trying to do our days jobs at the same time.
Trying to force children between the ages of six and eleven to pretend they are in school when they are at home isn’t practical. Turning Britain’s teachers into a sort of educational wing of the Stasi is a bad idea as well. As someone who has tried this for a week – and looks to be forced to do it for another five weeks at the very least – I can tell you that it just doesn’t work.