My home schooling reality

Saturday July 11th 2020

John-Hackett-Home-Schooling-Lockdown

Article written by Midlothian Councillor, John Hackett

When the Deputy First Minister announced schools will be returning on a full time basis after the summer break, the collective sigh of relief from Scotland’s parents was almost deafening.

Like the overwhelming majority of families, we have been supporting our children’s “home schooling” since March. I am not ashamed to say this has been one of the most difficult challenges I have faced as a parent.

The support from the staff at our local school has been tremendous. Moving from an entirely physical learning environment to distance learning almost overnight is truly a remarkable achievement. All at a time when I know many school staff faced the very same issues the rest of us did including supporting their own children’s learning needs. Thank you to everyone involved.

Whilst the support from our school has been great, home schooling has been nowhere near a substitute for their usual learning. With both my partner and I working full time, just finding the time to work with our children has been challenging enough. But throw in the tears, arguments and battling with the computer program, there has been little joy taken from this experience.

The final term of school was arguably one of the most important for my older daughter as she is starting high school after the summer. She has missed out on all the excellent transition work the school and parents have spent developing. No school camp or final visit to the high school. We were grateful for the final visit to the primary school which was a great opportunity for her to say goodbye to her teachers and friends. Whilst children are very resilient, it is hard not to worry about what impact three months of home schooling has had on her learning.

With the experience of March – June at the forefront of my mind, the thought of supporting “blended learning” for both our children makes me shudder with fear. It would definitely have an impact on the learning outcomes for my children which is hard to judge how damaging that would be in the longer term. Then there is trying to find the time to support blended learning in amongst both of us working full time.

Whilst the Deputy First Minister has said children will be returning to school full time in August, we have all seen how quickly this virus can return and as such, blended learning is still a possibility. Whilst my partner and I might struggle to find the time to support our children’s blended learning, we at least have each other for support.

I am extremely worried for single parent families in particular. Having spoken with many parents in this situation, each have expressed grave concerns about the impact this would have on their employment. Employers that can accommodate their staff supporting blended learning at home would still lead to a loss of earnings from the sole income earner in the family. For other employers that cannot support their staff being absent, it means redundancy. Working women, particularly single parents are already suffering the biggest financial detriment arising from the impact of Covid-19. We must not let blended learning place further burdens on struggling families.

As relieved as I am that plans are in place for schools to return full time, we cannot ignore the dangers that Covid-19 still presents. We have seen examples from elsewhere in the UK and abroad how quickly the virus can return. We have lived with the virus for only six months and are still learning every day what the health impacts are. I have read the reports of a “Kawasaki like” disease appearing amongst children and younger people. We cannot discount the fear and concerns from education staff about the impact on their own health and safety when educating and supporting our children at school.

No none wants to put a price on the health and safety of our children, ourselves or council staff. However we cannot ignore the financial impact Councils are facing due to the additional costs arising from introducing physical distancing measures, additional cleaning and other added costs needed to return schools back to full time. I really hope these added costs won’t impact on the longer term education outcomes for all our children.

So with six weeks of the summer holidays still to enjoy, I’ll try not to worry too much about what August may bring and look forward to our children returning to the “new normal”, whatever that will be.

John Hackett is a Councillor for Ward 5 – Midlothian East, Cabinet Member for Commercial Operations and Chair of the Labour Group of Councillors on Midlothian Council.

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