Covid parents’ evening

Schools are having to experiment during lockdown, from lessons to parents’ evenings, and for some adapting to them is easier than for others.

Picture of books and pencils in front of school board


What happens to parents’ evenings in the lockdown? We had a bizarre experience this week with a Zoom-style parents’ event. Basically, the system automatically booked you a time with each of the teachers. You got five minutes with each teacher and a minute between teachers.

We logged in and pressed start at the appointed time. The history teacher loomed into view. We started chatting while the clock counted down at the top of the screen. Inevitably, the signal was lost halfway through and we had to re-register. There were two minutes left. The teacher said something. 55 seconds remaining. I needed to get a question in. 10, 9, 8…I’d just squeezed it in when the screen cut out automatically at 0 and the timer started counting down the seconds until the next teacher.

There was barely enough time to say what do you want to ask the maths teacher before he popped up on screen. The computer proceeded to cut out during every one of the eight sessions. As the evening wore on, the teachers started speaking faster and faster and giving motivational gestures like thumbs ups in case we couldn’t hear properly and we started winding down and saying goodbye at around 30 seconds instead of at the last second, but it was hard to concentrate on what they were saying with the clock ticking. I felt slightly anxious and it wasn’t even about me. It was good to see the teachers, if briefly, and I bet it was a better system for some of them than the normal queues. Another good thing was that it was all done and dusted in less than an hour when it normally occupies half the evening and then you don’t get to see some of the crucial ones.

But I wonder how others find it and whether it is a nightmare if you have really in-depth issues or access problems, although I guess schools deal with in-depth issues outside the parents’ evening. As it was, there was barely time to talk about the usual target stuff and the whole GCSE uncertainty disaster before the screen cut out. But at least we had a laptop and a connection of sorts.

A report out yesterday from the Sutton Trust highlighted ongoing concerns about widening educational inequalities due to Covid, including access to internet and computers. It showed that a larger number of students are now studying more hours than during the first lockdown, but that there is a gap between middle class families and working class households, with 40% of children in middle class families managing five hours, compared to just 26% of those in working class households. The study also looked at the amount of live lessons provided by schools. Fifty-four per cent of teachers are now using online live lessons, compared with just 4% last March yet only 5% of teachers in state schools said that all their pupils had access to a device, compared with 54% in private schools.

In addition, the study found parents on lower incomes are more likely than their wealthier peers to say they are finding the second lockdown more difficult than the first (28% versus 15%). Moreover, one in five of the highest earners had spent more than £200 on home learning since September, while almost a third of the lowest earners had spent nothing. I know we’ve been through endless amounts of paper since lockdown because some of the lessons rely on you having a printer [and money for printer ink] and because of problems with handing documents in on Google classrooms.

Another issue outside of access to devices and wifi is study environment. There’s a big difference to your ability to study if you have a room and a desk of your own than if you are basically studying hunched over on your bed. The same goes, of course, for work.

Covid will have an enormous amount of negative outcomes on all our children, but some will be much worse affected than others and those who were due to take important exams – and the years just below – will have problems accessing the next stage of education, jobs and more unless urgent action, such as extra post-Covid lessons, foundation courses and so forth, is taken to help them catch up.

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