A tale of two towns
From P7 to university student in one pandemic
I started off the home-schooling frenzy with the attitude that the kids, in my case two boys in P7 and S1, would be fine as long as I paid close attention to their mental and physical health.
I decided that if I was going to have to choose between delivering effectively on my work and delivering ineffectively for them as a teacher, I would prioritise my work and their wellbeing. Compromise is not a new skill for families of all kinds across the country, especially the 30% of one parent families who live in Scotland. Academic achievement could park itself alongside my pointless car while we all buckled up for a long ride on the mental health rollercoaster.
I completely trusted the schools to manage the educational outcomes for the children and make the best of a thoroughly distressing situation. But as the weeks rolled on, I slowly opened my eyes to what the boys were experiencing...
It felt very much to me as though they were now attending their first term of university but without any of the social perks or status. They were experiencing that sudden sense of being completely unsure of what is expected of you and where you are supposed to be and whether it even matters.
From being known and seen, they had become virtually invisible overnight.
Engagement with the schools reduced to a series of emails and assignments with a variety of different formats, styles and expectations which were to be handed in (or not) to limited written feedback and little or no peer sharing or discussion.
So, I had to play a bigger role in their home-schooling even as I realised that there wasn’t actually a whole lot I could do. Because I’m not a teacher. But we have muddled through it together and some assignments have been handed in.
Whilst the primary school has offered one online maths class a week, the high school hasn’t been able to offer any online teaching.
I know that everyone was and is doing their best and everyone is as hungry as I am to look at what we have learned as parents and educators through this unique experience, and build that reform into our futures.
Here is some of what I have learnt that I think provides some seeds of opportunity and lots of relevance for our remote working future too:
I care as much about my kids having opportunities to interact with their peers and teachers as I do about them completing assignments.
Allowing children to choose channels for communicating and being flexible as parents and teachers helps them maintain connection. Email and group video calls don’t work every day for every child and our expectations and measurement of success should relate to learning and socialising outcomes, not outputs.
Digital tools such as video calls and pre-recorded lessons from the teachers are really valuable when they feel personalised to the child or small group of children. An audio or video note of feedback on work handed in is so great.
There is a vast learning gap between some children’s abilities to work online and others. From touch typing to managing social media apps, there is a huge opportunity to expand the way we educate children in this space beyond coding and PowerPoint.
Some children have had respite by being at home and clearly flourished mentally and physically. My eldest is one of those kids. A blended or hybrid teaching model as a permanent option for those families who want to accommodate it could be a game changer.
Collaboration across the private education sector and state sector could and should happen more broadly to help alleviate the education gap that has widened during the crisis and to inspire excellence in all our children. We could expand on the sharing of physical assets from pitches to libraries, specialist teachers and opportunities for remote learning in specialist subjects, just because we know it is the right thing to do. The charitable status of private schools should be leveraged for the benefit of all of Scotland’s children.
Written by Harriet Moll, creative Director
"Hello P2, how are you today?"
The phrase that will forever remind me of our lockdown home school experience, especially as my six-year-old daughter has taken to mimicking her teacher while bossing around her three-year-old sister in unrelenting, and frankly rather unrealistic, games of ‘school’.
I joke, but that phrase has become emblematic of how fortunate we have been as parents of two girls during a time when, for some, education has been on pause. In all honesty, until I had conversations with colleagues and friends whose children attend other schools - some in the same town - I didn’t quite appreciate how fortunate we are to hear the excited and energetic voice of our daughter’s teacher every day.
Since the day I picked her up in March and the school locked its gates behind us, Miss M has been a constant and reassuring (if virtual) presence at our kitchen table, giving us structure and the occasional kind nudge as we inevitably fall behind with the set tasks while juggling work and life. Through almost daily video lessons on a range of subjects, to written feedback to regular personalised voice messages of praise and encouragement, my daughter is one of the lucky few in Scotland that has been afforded the opportunity to experience lockdown learning in this way. It helps that we live in a town known for its good schools, that attract excellent teachers. That’s not to boast, but to point to the lack of equity in our school system which existed before lockdown, but has been exposed more than ever during it.
That’s not to say that home-schooling has been a flawless bed of gold stars for us. While my daughter’s educational needs have been met, as well as the continuation of the teacher-pupil bond which is so important to making children fall in love with learning at a young age, there’s no getting around the fact that her mental wellbeing has been adversely affected.
As we enter the summer holiday period, I am acutely aware that my children have spent the equivalent of two summer holidays (and counting) with no interaction with other children. No matter how hard we as parents have tried, the weekly Zoom call with her classmates hasn’t been enough to replace the social learning, emotional connection and just old-fashioned play, my daughter would otherwise have benefited from at school. This is also the case for our three-year-old, who is arguably at an even more delicate age, developing her own sense of identity and independence... or at least she should be. Instead we have relied on a weekly story time from her nursery teachers and failed attempts at video calls (it turns out three-year-olds won’t sit still - who would have thought it?).
All of this is inevitably coming to a head 13 weeks into lockdown, manifesting itself in emotional outbursts, disrupted sleep patterns and generally pushing the limits of their parents’ patience. Sadly, my daughters are not the only ones. Lockdown has shifted the balance of children’s lives and their sense of control, or lack of it. Research by the Children’s Parliament, which tracks monthly trends in how children are feeling during lockdown, shows that month-on-month children are reporting that they have less energy, increased levels of boredom, heightened anxiety and a significant increase in worries relating to schoolwork.
A rising number also say they worry that the pandemic and consequent lockdown is eroding their rights. The counter argument to that might be that in some countries, children don’t start formal education until they are at least seven or eight. Indeed, as someone who didn’t start school until I was nine years old on account of firstly being born in the Balkans and secondly the outbreak of a civil war on the eve of my start at school, I accept that. But the context in which our children see and measure themselves in is not one of their choosing.
Perhaps saddest of all, more than 55% of the children aged 8-14 who responded to the Children’s Parliament said they worry about their future.
If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that preparedness is paramount and we must not ignore what’s in front of us. The impact of months of social isolation and a delay in development in some cases will come back to bite us in years to come. But it’s not too late to think innovatively about how we can fix it in the months ahead.
It’s the start of the summer holidays, which gives us six weeks to reset, rethink and reimagine our approach. Come August, whether our children are back in classrooms or not, their wellbeing needs to be top of the curriculum.
Written by Sabina Kadić-Mackenzie, associate partner