Home-schooling: Advice urges no more than three hours' work a day for pupils

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

This is not “business as usual” and teachers should not be expected to deliver a full school timetable to pupils at home during the coronavirus closures.

Advice from three major education unions has urged schools to focus in the shorter term on ensuring children feel safe and supported. It also asks schools to drop formal performance monitoring of staff during the coronavirus crisis.

Joint advice has been published by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), National Education Union (NEU), and the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), covering safe staffing, supporting pupils at home, and referring safeguarding concerns.

And separate distance learning guidance has been published by the NEU. In this advice, the NEU urges schools to facilitate a maximum of two to three hours’ work a day for home schooled pupils. It also says that routine marking or grading of work should not be carried out at this time.

Both sets of advice warn that it is not “feasible” to home school the nation’s children.

The joint advice document states: “Children in school will not be following a normal timetable – with lessons and homework. The main focus, certainly in the short-term, will be on ensuring that children are safe and supported.

“In the slightly longer-term, teachers or educators may have more capacity to think about the learning opportunities they can provide to children in school, recognising that this is likely to continue to look very different from a whole-day timetable of structured lessons.”

Schools are reminded in the joint advice that it is not possible to replicate “a usual school experience at home”. Many schools will lack the resources for this and families will have “very different home circumstances”, with some pupils not having internet access and others having very limited access as parents adjust to working from home.

Schools are urged to consider alternative or complementary learning activities that do not require technology and staff should collaborate to produce these in order to reduce workload.

Safeguarding must not be overlooked either. The joint advice says that teachers should not be asked to personally contact individual students, except where there is an agreed, formal system in place for contacting vulnerable pupils. Personal emails or telephones should never be used for this.

The guidance adds: “It is extremely important that all schools remind their staff and pupils of their policies for safe internet usage and review whether any specific changes to the policy need to be made to take the new circumstances into account.

“Schools should also consider setting out a clear statement for parents which details the school’s approach to any home learning and protocols for communication between school and home.”

The joint advice also reminds schools that they should not take on the role of social services: “For pupils who are not in school, if schools have safeguarding concerns, these should be reported in the usual way to social services. However, we do not believe that it is the role of school staff to be carrying out home visits. Schools may want to produce a short annex to their safeguarding policies detailing any changes they have put in place during this period.”

The Department for Education (DfE) has published further guidance to schools on safeguarding arrangements during the crisis (DfE, 2020).

Elsewhere, the joint advice urges schools to be mindful of staff workload. Where possible, teachers should collaborate to produce home learning materials, while teachers who are working in-school should not be expected to support home learning at the same time.

It adds: “Schools need to be mindful that their staff will have demands and pressures of their own, such as childcare and so it may not be possible for them to work a ‘usual’ school day. Schools should not be formally monitoring staff ‘performance’ during this period.”

In addition, staff holidays should be operated on a rota system to ensure all staff get two weeks off at some point during or after Easter. “We do not expect schools to open on Good Friday or Easter Monday,” the guidance adds.

Meanwhile, the NEU’s own distance learning advice includes specific tips for primary and secondary teachers, school leaders and some FAQs.

It warns that “we cannot expect pupils or parents to replicate the classroom at home” and urges a focus on “bite-sized chunks of work” which are more likely to be completed and could be part of a bigger project.

It says that the live streaming of lessons should not be done from teachers’ homes and also advises that teachers should not be expected to carry out routine marking or grading at this time.

For primary it adds: “A list of flexible tasks that cover different areas of the curriculum allows children to choose the tasks that interest them, and the ones parents feel they can manage.”

For secondary it says: “Set tasks that can be completed to varying degrees of success with more complex and additional tasks for the most able pupils. Tasks that require little or no access to technology are preferable in order to cater for everyone.”

For school leaders, the advice adds: “A maximum of two to three hours of ‘work’ per day is plenty and will keep minds active but enthusiastic. Getting children to help with household activities such as washing, cooking and gardening are educational, as is watching some ‘good’ television or online streams, such as documentaries and drama.”

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: “Teachers cannot be working as though they are sat in front of a class, and children cannot be expected to be able to study full time with online resources.

“Similarly, parents – many of whom will also be working from home – cannot be expected to be supervising heavy school workloads for their children.

“Teachers working at home must be given workloads which are reasonable and sustainable, and this must be negotiated with the staff. Normal education is currently suspended, and teachers should not be teaching a full timetable, or routinely marking work.

“Many schools and colleges have already adopted a sensible approach to school-work and engagement with students. Some have not, so it is essential that all heads and leadership teams ensure neither school staff, parents or students are overwhelmed and confused by unrealistic expectations and workload.”


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