Why parents need support with online learning

Getting pupils engaged in online learning isn't as simple as providing laptops – schools must reach out to parents, too
19th January 2021, 12:00pm
Grainne Hallahan


Why parents need support with online learning

Coronavirus School Closures: Why Parents Need Support With Online Learning, Too

We all know that the opportunities available to young people can be hugely influenced by the household they are from. 

Remote learning is making this clearer than ever. Without tablets or laptops of their own, some children from disadvantaged backgrounds have been left unable to participate, while their more affluent peers have had no trouble.

In other homes, there are devices available but there is unreliable wi-fi, or there are siblings who need access, too. And then there is the issue of parents' ability to help.

In a recent report for the University of Cambridge's Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research, Hannah Holmes and Gemma Burgess noted that "some parents don't have the necessary skills to help their children use the most appropriate learning platforms".

Coronavirus: Ensuring pupil engagement in online learning

So how can schools square this with the expectations set out by Ofsted to ensure engagement from all learners?

"If the only barrier to remote learning in areas of disadvantage was that pupils didn't have a device through which to access online provision, then - despite the paucity of resources from the DfE - our job would be easy," says Willow Jackson*, a school leader in the North of England.

"OK, you've been given a laptop and dongle by school. Great. But do you have the digital literacy to be able to use them to access the school platforms? What about the required reading age? If you don't, then do your parents have the literacy skills to be able to support you?"

Schools can do everything in their power to make sure that children have access to the technology they need, but they still have to contend with the fact that some have parents and carers who struggle with literacy or who do not speak English as their first language.

And these challenges are hard to address, particularly from a distance.

So what can schools do to bridge these gaps?

Stephanie Waddell, assistant director, impact and knowledge mobilisation at the Early Intervention Foundation, says schools must be mindful of the different circumstances facing their parents.

"All parents are under pressure at the moment, but parents on low incomes may be struggling simply to keep their heads above water," says Waddle.

What is needed, she continues, is an approach to home learning that caters for different circumstances.

"Schools need to be supported to design an approach to home learning that is sufficiently flexible and responsive to a range of family circumstances and that maximises the ability of parents to engage."

Question time

But how to ascertain the level of engagement and understanding? The simplest way is to ask, says John Jolly, CEO of ParentKind. He recommends that schools make regular and meaningful contacts with their families to find out what challenges they're facing.

"Every parent will face unique challenges in overseeing their child's remote learning," he says, "whether they're working full-time, wrestling with job and income uncertainty or simply lacking the subject-specific expertise and professionalism of teachers."

And once those challenges have been identified, then schools can put the necessary support in place.

"We will continue to champion every parent and ensure that concerns are heard and acted on by policymakers. No parent is alone during this crisis. Parentkind's free resources to support learning have ideas to inspire every parent, regardless of circumstances."

The date when schools will return is still not known. This only makes the task facing leaders even more challenging, and parental engagement even more of a struggle to sustain.

However, as hard as securing engagement in online learning is, the unknown end date also gives us even more reason to pursue it.

*Willow Jackson is a pseudonym 

Tes Coronavirus Hub

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