Coronavirus closures: How to support pupils in primary

With schools closed because of coronavirus, continuing primary education will be tricky - but this guide can help

Grainne Hallahan

Coronavirus: A guide to how primary schools can keep pupils learning after they close

For those primary-aged children not in the parent key worker or vulnerable categories, schools are now closed. In order to continue their education, schools will have to find a way to assist their learning at home. 

For the very youngest in the school, Dr Julian Grenier has provided a guide here

But for those in key stage 1 and KS2?

Some schools are providing links or resources via their website. For some, this will be workable. Tes offers a full guide to possible tech solutions.

But due to the age of primary children and the potential that many will not have internet access at home, or will have older siblings working on the home’s only device, we focus here on printed booklets that schools may provide. These can be organised as a pack to send out weekly, or to have arranged for children to take home.

How to continue primary teaching after coronavirus closures

We spoke to primary schools already ahead in planning this work. Here is their guide:

1. Sort the equipment

Do your students have colouring pencils? Paper and pencils? A pencil sharpener and rubber?

If your students are going to be working at home, then making sure they have the basics required to complete the booklet is essential. 

That will likely include paper. 

“We will be sending home an exercise book, and in the lower years a handwriting book. This means the parents will not have to worry about paper,” says Laura Herbert, a primary school leader in Colchester.

Not only that, but schools should also check what technology they have if they’re going to include any activities that require listening or watching something online, says Herbert.

2. Give pupils reading

Ruth Luzmore, headteacher of St Mary Magdalene Academy in North London, has made sure that all her students will have library books at home with them.

“Each child will be going home with at least two books to read,” says Luzmore.

She thinks it’s really important for schools to utilise the resources they have on-site that can go home with their students. 

Setting reading as a task is something that is easy for most students to do, and an easy one for parents to supervise.

Richard Peterson, a school leader in a primary school in the Ribble Valley in Lancashire, says regular reading is essential.

“Just get them to read appropriate books! It’s retrieval practice of the knowledge of blending,” he says. 

3. Focus content on recaps

The amount of support your children will have at home is going to vary massively. Even your previous experience of the sort of help they’re given by their parents and carers for their homework won’t necessarily match with the level of help they’ll be given for this work. 

Peterson says the solution is to recap.

“In the short- to medium-term, home learning has to focus on what the children have learned already and help them to 'not forget it'. In other words, retrieval practice,” he says. “So at primary, that's focusing on maths and English.”

As an example, Peterson suggests teachers set activities that will secure pupils' knowledge of number, calculation and fractions.

“I would set tasks that will help students recall the number bonds and times tables primarily,” he says.

Without the teacher there to clarify their instructions, pupils may struggle to work out what is required of them in a task.

Whatever activity you’re setting, use examples (and non-examples) to help students to see exactly what it is they have to do.

4. Think about a (flexible) timetable

When Herbert compiled her booklets, she tried to consider how the time could be scheduled in chunks at home. 

“We are sending home a mixture of maths, English, phonics and science. These range from larger projects, such as writing a story, to retrieval practice of previously studied material,” she explains.

Should it all be sitting down and writing?

No, says Herbert. They’ve also included activities to keep students active, and looking after their mental wellbeing.

“We’ve made sure there are also activities such as PE, mindfulness, art and DT. These will be fun activities but also educational," she says. 

5. Make communication easy

Some parents will be worried about how they’re going to support their child for a multitude of reasons: they’re unsure of the content themselves, they’ll be time-poor with their own work to do or they’re going to have many children at home who will need their help.

One thing that can help reassure them is knowing how to contact the school if they need support.

“We have communicated to parents that if a child requires support with a piece of work, or the adult is unclear on what needs to be done, they can contact us via an email address, which has been set up for each class,” says Herbert. 

These emails will be responded to between 9am and 3pm, explains Herbert.

And the school has also made it clear that the work the pupils will be doing will be looked at by teachers.

“If parents would like us to mark the work they can send it over email [by photographing it on their phones], and we have also said that we would love to see some of the work they have completed when they return," she says. 

6. Differentiate the booklets 

Just like the work teachers provide in class, the booklets you send home do not have to be identical. It’s a good idea to use the information from recent data drops and parents' evenings to personalise the pack for your pupils.

“We used our information from a recent parents' evening to design the booklets. It helped us to decide what the children needed extra support with, and which parents have and don't have the resources available for this,” explains Herbert.

This is particularly helpful for students who will be working on their phonics and blending skills.

“We will send home individual precision-teaching exercises based on the last assessment for the children to practise the sounds they find most tricky,” she says.

7. Reuse 

Now is the time to dig through your cupboards and find any resources that have already been photocopied that can be sent home. 

Collect everything together and then see what you can make with what you’ve got before you start photocopying anything new.

Also, lots of companies are making their resources free at the moment. There is a list here, and you can use these resources to compile booklets for your students.

8. Give parents a bit of freedom

It’s a good idea to encourage parents to feel as if they can take the opportunity to do something different with their children, says Peterson.

“I have an eight-year-old,” Peterson explains. “And I know this is a great opportunity for me to help my child to develop an interest or a talent.” 

It might also help to point them towards websites where you can do virtual tours of museums, or drawing tutorials on YouTube, and simply encourage parents to use their own personal hobbies to help teach their children something new.

What if the situation continues?

If we are looking at a longer period of school closure than just a few weeks, then schools will have to rethink their approach, says Peterson.

"If we're in a situation where schools will be shut for four months, then I'd expect there would be a shift to planning well-developed home-learning experiences via online platforms," Peterson explains.

In that scenario, teachers might consider setting their work over platforms like Google Classroom. Some primaries are already opting to put resources on their websites for other schools to download.

Using tech may create issues, however. For example, World Health Organisation guidance says those aged 3-4 should only spend a maximum of an hour at a time in front of a screen, while most parents and teachers will not want pupils staring at a screen for an entire school day.

All in all, as one international school headteacher whose school has been closed for four weeks notes, it may well be the case that primary teachers have to accept the reality that teaching a normal day is just not possible in a remote learning situation.

“For our early years and primary sections, we have had to reduce the amount of work as students were taking twice as long to complete tasks,” she says.

“This has meant totally new approaches to planning and content to ensure that we deliver objectives in a timely manner.”

As for safeguarding, we have a full list of considerations for those no longer attending school. 

And we have a school leader's checklist for closure

Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

Grainne Hallahan

Grainne Hallahan

Grainne Hallahan is Tes recruitment editor and senior content writer at Tes

Find me on Twitter @heymrshallahan

Latest stories

Classroom humour: Teacher pranks that annoy pupils

10 teacher pranks that annoy pupils

From referring to 'InstaChat' to telling tall stories, here are some of the ways staff give themselves a laugh in class
Dave Speck 17 May 2021
Woman, squeezed into cardboard box

Why I can't stand set lesson plans

Any one-size-fits-all structure imposed on classroom teachers risks removing the joy from learning, says Megan Mansworth
Megan Mansworth 17 May 2021