At the time of writing, Unesco states that school closures are impacting over 87 per cent of the world’s student population, a total of 1,524,648,768 learners.
By the time you read this, the numbers are likely to be higher.
In my household, I have two of these learners, aged 9 and 7, along with their three-year-old brother.
My husband and I are both teachers, which led many of our friends to comment enviously about our assumed prowess in teaching one’s own children. A few of them made semi-serious comments about sending their offspring over for the duration of the academic day.
Unfortunately, as my husband and I know only too well, teaching the subjunctive mood to Year 6 is a walk in the park compared with getting all three of our own children to take part in a single organised activity at home at any one time.
QTS does not a home educator make.
Coronavirus: Teaching your own children
The frantic 48 hours before the schools closed were a flurry of password finding, website making, booklet ordering and online platform finding. We were as ready as we would ever be.
When he got home, my husband informed me that Monday was his rota day, so I’d be flying solo with the kids. I opened the Tesco app and added a few more bars of chocolate and a bottle of wine to the online shop.
Monday morning dawned bright and early. I told the boys over breakfast that we’d make the most of the weather first thing and go for a walk across to the parkland near our house for some fresh air.
The nine-year-old was horrified (“But we’ll be late for school!”) and sulked his way through the entire walk.
A dysfunctional school day
To his relief, we were home by 8.55am. Excitement and anticipation in the air, he and his brother rushed to use their log-ins for the school’s new virtual learning platform.
Unfortunately, it turned out that most of the other 15 million UK children were doing exactly the same.
“We are carrying out essential maintenance,” breezed the webpage cheerily.
By the end of the day, I had managed to accidentally give myself a black eye with the kitchen mop (a non-gin and non-cleaning related injury), the seven-year-old had put a football through the shed window, and the only maths question anyone had managed to answer successfully was: “If the three-year-old has an attention span of five minutes, then how many different activities does Mummy have to provide him with during the course of the six-hour school day?”
A settled routine
As the weeks have gone on, however, we have slowly started to find a pattern to our days. We have all learned that different things are important to each other in this artificial, pressurised environment.
For the nine-year-old, it is the routine that comes with doing some school work each day, so that’s what we have done.
For the three-year-old, it is making as much mess as possible in every room in the house, so that’s what he has done.
For me, it has been to come to terms with the fact that I can’t run the house like a school, and there is no point trying.
My husband and I are both juggling the competing demands of home, school and work and there has been an inevitable blurring of boundaries, such as my husband’s virtual SLT meeting being interrupted by my youngest bursting into the room screeching, “Hurry up, Daddy, I need a poo and it’s going to come out in my pants!”
My children’s school has informed us that, after Easter, it is going to be using Zoom to provide online classrooms with live teaching. The very idea makes me shudder inwardly.
One poor teacher, 30 fidgety children, 60 gawping parents, and my dramatically inclined toddler making toilet-related cameos at every conceivable opportunity. I think we’ll be sticking to the CGP booklets.
A flexible approach
Headteachers need to be mindful that parents and teachers are doing their best in this unprecedented crisis situation.
Many of my friends (teachers and non-teachers) are feeling under enormous pressure to provide a full academic education for their children. My experience has been that this is simply not possible. We are confined to our house for around 23 hours a day, and our days are noisy, messy and chaotic much of the time.
We need to compromise, to negotiate, to work together and to find small ways to make each other happy. That is an education in itself.
The writer is an experienced teacher, senior leader and is a new Sendco. She works in a primary school in Kent and tweets @AgentSenco