Children are learning 20% of what they should be. There’s no solution but to open the schools

SCHOOLS are meant to reopen on March 8. But for how many children?

I imagine it will be exam groups only.

So for many ­thousands of our kids, the ­status quo will continue — the ongoing stress and difficulty of home-schooling.

We need to be honest about what this lockdown is doing to our children.

Sadly, at the moment, I think we are ­kidding ourselves. We think that online learning does the trick.

It isn’t ideal, we say, but at least the kids are learning.

Trouble is, they’re not. I would say children are ­learning on average about 20 per cent of what they would learn ­normally in school.

Some children, who have a stay-at-home “tiger mum” are working well enough in their front rooms.

Mum tests the child on their understanding of the content of their lessons and sets extra online maths work, using websites such as IXL or Hegarty.

She also hires tutors for one-to-one support and ensures homework is done to the child’s best ability.


But what about the rest of our children? What about the children whose parents are working full-time and cannot be a support teacher at home?

The more disadvantaged the home, the greater the negative impact of us believing online learning works.

My school is in the inner city and I am acutely aware of how much some of our children depend on us.

This morning one of my teachers was telling me about a cute kid in her form who used to draw funny people and make silly snowmen for her.

Now, he is a shell of who he once was. “He’s a different child,” she said.

That’s to say nothing of the children who are persistently absent from online lessons or who show up to the lesson, only to disappear a few minutes in and leave their black box open on Zoom so it looks like they are “present”, when they are nothing of the sort.

In some schools, lessons might have 100 children or more. The teacher cannot pepper questions around the class, to check for understanding, test their retention and re-teach content if ­necessary.

Why might there be so many children in a class? Because some teachers are teaching key workers’ ­children and vulnerable kids in school and the rest are ­delivering online lessons.

We need to be realistic about how much actual learning is going on. Parents see their children busying away in front of the ­computer and assume the child is learning lots.

But there is a difference between real learning and busy work.

In September 2020, 112,000 Year 7 pupils from 644 schools across England sat a writing assessment with an organisation called No More Marking.

The results showed that the pupils performed at roughly the same level as pupils who took the same assessment in November of Year 5.

In other words, the Year 7 pupils’ ­writing was judged to be at the same level as writing produced by pupils 22 months younger.

That was the effect of the first lockdown.

We think kids missed five months of school in the first lockdown. What we don’t ­recognise is that the loss of learning is far greater than the time missed.

Homework is copied and children can be on social media and Netflix throughout their lessons unless someone is watching them at home.


Not to mention the loss of socialisation and “growing up” that ­normally takes place at school as well as in the home.

The Government kindly gave schools laptops to give to ­disadvantaged children to allow these children to access their online lessons. Great idea.

Except that we forget that a laptop also gives them access to WhatsApp, Snapchat and Instagram and then becomes the very thing that prevents them from accessing their online learning.

There really seems to be no solution. Except, that there is a ­solution. We need to open our schools. That might mean ­vaccinating teachers. And yes, that might mean them jumping the queue.

Well, if that’s what it takes, then we should do it.

It is all very well insisting that teachers should be in the classroom without the vaccine but if we then end up with schools closed for even more time, what will be done for the most disadvantaged who have missed out on their crucial development?

As it is, I don’t imagine schools will open in full until after Easter.

The other day during an interview I was asked: “You’re a radical head teacher! What should we do?”

I may be radical, but I don’t have a magic wand.

There is only one possible solution: Government should make opening our schools their number one priority.

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