‘Flexible learning will stop pupils being left behind'

Education should embrace the opportunity to share learning between home and school, says Sarah Ade

Sarah Ade

‘Flexible learning will stop pupils being left behind'

I found that about eight weeks into lockdown, my children seemed to relax. The tension went out of them and they were more grounded, sure of themselves, less self-conscious, more outspoken and full of their own views and thoughts. I noticed it in other people’s children, too, when we started seeing them at a social distance.

I really liked this version of my children. It seemed that being out of the high-intensity classroom setting, where peer pressure and academic pressure are all too prevalent, for a period longer than any child would usually get in the whole of their academic life had offered an invaluable insight into our children's wellbeing.

We all benefited from having an abundance of time, from not having to fit everything around a calendar of school and after-school activities, with playdates sandwiched in between and the odd bit of family time here and there. Having toyed with the idea of homeschooling for years, but never feeling fully committed to taking on my children's education singlehanded, when a "blended learning" strategy was discussed as a likely option going into the new term, I felt a real sense of excitement.

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This could provide – for me and, I know, also many other parents  the perfect package for both education and the health of our young people: part-time schooling with a structured curriculum and enough input from the school to take the pressure off parents, while simultaneously providing enough time out of school to take the pressure off pupils.

Now back in full-time education, however, things are feeling pretty rocky. With every child who has a cough, fever or loses their sense of smell (who doesn’t with a cold?) being sent home to self-isolate for a fortnight or asked to arrange a Covid test, where does that leave our children's education?

When this happened to one of my children recently, I understood the cautious approach taken by the school, and took the children home expecting there to be a system ready to share classwork with pupils at home (as there are going to be lots, over the next few months). You can imagine my surprise when I was told that there was nothing set up for pupils to access work at home. What had happened to the creation of a robust back-up "blended learning" plan – surely all schools across Scotland, and indeed the UK, will need something of this kind over the coming months?

Perhaps a little more flexibility in our Scottish education system is the way forward, allowing for what the future throws at us – potentially more pandemics, more lockdowns, and who knows what else.

With a more flexible approach to education we could support a more wraparound system for more vulnerable children and those whose parents need longer school hours, while children would benefit from more time at home; I imagine we may also see a major shift in how businesses structure office and home working.

We are venturing towards uncharted territory. The one thing we can be clear on is that our children will need to be adaptable and resilient to cope with whatever changes occur, and they seem to be occurring more and more frequently.

Meanwhile, our children are in danger of being left behind by an outdated system. Perhaps it's time to look forward and embrace the unprecedented potential for change that has arisen, rather than the slightly panic-stricken scrabble to "get back to normal" that seems to have seized society – including our schools – in the wake of lockdown.

Sarah Ade is an editor of community news publications, based in Dumfries and Galloway, and has two primary school children

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