Education in a pandemic: back to school… but not as we know it

It’s back to ‘school’ this week from two weeks of ‘holiday’. How can you make it to the end of the homeschooling week? Katie Waldegrave from Now Teach has some calming words.

blackboard with books, pencils and an apple


Katie Waldegrave, Co-founder Now Teach, has some words of wisdom from teachers for parents struggling through the homeschool homework marathon.

Although everyone acknowledges we are in ‘unprecedented times’, I can’t move for guidance on how to cope with the pandemic. It’s well-meant, but the accumulation of advice – from clever recipes for tinned food to top tips for exercising in a confined space – can be overwhelming.

It’s easy to imagine everyone else is rustling up gourmet meals from old jars of Worcestershire sauce and walking a marathon in their bedroom, while you are desperately quashing fears that you are neglecting your children and your job, and barely finding the time for a shower.

Nowhere is the advice more overwhelming than in the sphere of education: anyone who lives with someone under eighteen is suddenly an educator. The stakes feel very high and nobody knows what everyone else is doing, while trying to combine some form of teaching with your own work is a painful juggling act.

The truth is though, it’s not your job to be a teacher and you probably haven’t been trained to be one, so all we can do is whatever it takes to keep yourself feeling sane and your children safe and secure.

The unions are clear: “We cannot ‘home school’ the nation’s children.” Nonetheless, schools and academy chains are setting their own expectations. Some parents are keen and able to support their children, many are less able. Everyone is finding it confusing.

Of course, it’s the parents with less money who will struggle more – internet access, laptops, space and time will be more limited. This will affect their children disproportionately and this awful truth will be one of the tragedies of this whole period.

But even those parents who are at the more fortunate end with internet and a garden are struggling to define their own expectations and make some kind of a manageable working life.

Right now, all that can be done is to acknowledge that none of us know the best approach. Teachers are being told to think about their jobs in all kinds of new ways and it’s extremely difficult – particularly for those who must combine it with educating their own children.

Now Teacher Lynda Burns – who, in her former life at the Foreign Office, managed negotiations with hi-jackers of an
aeroplane and so knows a thing or two about operating under pressure – told us: ‘For me, in work and in homeschooling, this is a time when “good enough” really is enough.’

At the start of the pandemic my social media feeds, like everyone else’s, were full of witty memes and images of frenetically frazzled homeschooling parents. It feels like the jokes have stopped flowing now. Parents are struggling to keep up with the complicated needs of children in different year groups while holding down their own jobs. [No-one knows what they are doing – it’s hard.]

Bend the rules

One of the things which Now Teachers have taught me, is how important it is to hold yourself accountable to your own idea of what is important. Of course, we must obey ‘the rules’, but we must also see them for what they are. Even in the best of times rules and policies are imperfect human constructs. And these are not the best of times. The rules are being made up and each of us can only do our best for now.

From all this, something new will emerge and we will shape a narrative, but the Now Teachers who seem to be finding the greatest peace in combining parenting with teaching are the ones who are bending the rules to make life tolerable.

It might be more screen time or less completed school work; but it’s trying to trust their own judgement and ignore the feeling that someone else has the answer if they could but find it.

In countless different ways, Now Teachers over the last few years have almost all at some point told me something along the lines of Kate Weatherall, maths Now Teacher: “A bad day is just a bad day. The next day will be different.”

Final thoughts

For those who really do want more tips… Here’s a distillation of some advice from Now Teachers who are also trying to teach their own children:

1. Resource-wise, don’t spend time trying to make or create your own. Follow your school’s lead.
2. If you want to supplement this, you might take a look at The National Academy or BBC bitesize or any number of the other great online resources which have been made available, but pick one and don’t spend hours trying to ‘become’ a teacher.
3. Try and set up a family routine – children thrive on routine.
4. Don’t panic about the fact that there is almost certain to be more screen time. Guilt never helped anyone…
5. Don’t do the school-work for them: but do feedback to teachers about what is and isn’t working. This is all new for them too.
6. The most important thing for all of us at this time is to do what we can to make our children feel safe and loved. The rest can wait.

*The Government has also provided some online education support – and

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