Teachers set 'impossible' remote learning task

The legal obligation on schools to provide remote learning will hit those in disadvantaged areas the hardest, MP warns
20th October 2020, 5:54pm


Teachers set 'impossible' remote learning task

Coronavirus: The Legal Obligation On Schools To Provide Remote Learning Will Put Immense Pressure On Teachers, Mp Warns

Schools face an "impossible task" in ensuring that all pupils can access a remote education from this week, ministers will be warned.

The government has created a legal obligation on schools - coming into effect in two days' time - to provide immediate access to remote education for pupils if they are absent due to Covid-19.

But tonight Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh will tell a debate in Parliament that this direction from the education secretary Gavin Williamson will add to the pressure on schools and cannot be achieved if pupils do not have access to the internet or a device to work on.

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The Mitcham and Morden MP said: "This legal obligation has come as a surprise to schools and teachers, who are already under immense pressure, given the number of children still without internet access or an adequate device at home - and for whom this policy fails.

Coronavirus: Disadvantaged pupils without devices to access remote learning

"Though the Department for Education has been allocating devices, the numbers distributed falls far short of the need. Importantly, a device is effectively useless without an internet connection.

"Creating a legal expectation for schools to do this without any warning or debate creates an impossible task for them and, as always, it will hit schools in the most deprived communities the hardest.

"If a school has one or two pupils without internet access, it  can do something about that, it can work around that, but when it becomes, 20, 30, 40 pupils, what can a school do to address this, and by this Thursday?"

The government's decision to use temporary continuity direction powers to place an obligation on schools over remote education has been described as a grave error by the general secretary of the NAHT school leaders' union, Paul Whiteman. 

After the move was announced three weeks ago, he warned that it could do "irreparable damage to the relationship between government and the profession".

Ms McDonagh said: "The lockdown exposed the digital divide in our society, with schools across the country reporting struggling families who do not have internet access or devices at home.

"Those children who couldn't access the same resources as their classmates will have fallen even further behind.

"At a time when schools are under immense pressure, encouraging children to catch up on all of the learning that they've lost, the government has slipped these changes in with little scrutiny.

"How can a school meet their obligation of remote teaching if their pupils do not have the devices or connections required to log in from home?"

Ms McDonagh told Tes that she was concerned about access to remote learning as Ofcom estimates that between 1.14 and 1.78 million children in the UK have no home access to a laptop, desktop or tablet.

She added: "To quote a headteacher of an Ofsted 'outstanding' school in my constituency: 'Today in school the leadership team have been trying to work out exactly how to address the online learning legislative changes from 22 October, when around one third of pupils do not have devices. Frankly, we do not know what to do'."

The Department for Education has been approached for a comment.

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