How have our most disadvantaged pupils fared during Coronavirus school closures?
This is a reflection of my experience working in a town where the numbers of disadvantaged students are statistically higher than the national average.
Online learning needs electricity and devices
This may sound obvious and trite, but at times of great economic difficulty and with all members of households being at home, the surge in demand for electricity is huge. Power companies are doing their part and credit to them for freezing bills and keeping the supply flowing. Disadvantaged students living in privately rented houses and flats are not always seeing these leniencies being applied. The pounds in the meter are being stretched through the increased load on cooking, washing and heating and with the television being ‘constantly on’ to the world outside.
From conversations with school network managers, it is common for households (particularly disadvantaged ones) to not have a computer with a keyboard in the house, let alone a printer. Many households do all their online activities through the ubiquitous mobile phone which is inherently unsuitable for navigating many of the websites suggested. Even when schools have supplied packs, some households are unable to provide the stationary needed to complete the tasks (pens, paper etc)
Online learning needs the internet
Many disadvantaged pupils live in houses that do not have a broadband connection. At best, some may have intermittent service due to difficulties in paying the bills. It is welcome news that internet providers are not cutting off customers at this time of great need, but when household budgets are tight (even before a national crisis) broadband is often a luxury that has to go. There is also the challenge of paying monthly data plans on mobile phones. One of the big challenges of ‘lockdown‘ is keeping in touch with relatives and friends. For the better-off households with unlimited calls and ‘all you can use’ data, this is not as much of a challenge. When less advantaged households reach the data cap, that is the end. That ‘call your Grandma’ or the school work, it’s understandable which one is not a priority.
This is a pandemic: There may be illness in the house
Many disadvantaged students may live in smaller houses with more people. If there is an illness in the house, this will understandably be the priority. Isolating and caring the family member may put a strain on the sleeping arrangements, not to mention the working spaces for students at home. There may also be caring responsibility placed on the child to care for or occupy younger siblings. It is again entirely understandable why schooling may be a lower priority.
One look on the internet and you will see any number of activities going on in spacious gardens and roomy outside spaces. This may not be the reality for some disadvantaged students who are confined to the house for the duration of the day. Many home-schooling plans involve an exercise aspect which is more difficult inside (Joe Wickes excepting). There is also the need for regular breaks to ‘let off steam’ – imagine doing that in a one-bed flat?
Access to a teacher or resources
One of the biggest movements in education in recent times has been towards a ‘knowledge-rich‘ curriculum, developing cultural capital. This move has been welcomed by many and the re-professionalisation of teachers as educators, not merely facilitators, have engendered a sea-change in how we educate our children. Advantaged pupils will have access to (usually) more educated parents who will now be at home for prolonged periods. This will allow more advantaged students to push further ahead. Dr Dan Nicholls published a graphic to explain the disparity: Addressing Disadvantaged
Access to pastoral support
Pastoral support is arguably just as important, if not more so at this time. Families, not just students need support, from signposting to agencies or raising awareness of the help and support that is available. It could also be support for mental health, financial issues or even healthcare. We have set up ‘phone banks’ of school leaders and pastoral staff to ‘check-in’ regularly with families to ensure that we continue to provide support. We have also heard of many self-employed parents who having been accustomed to a certain way of life, now finding it hard to adjust and find the right support. Successful small business owners need signposting to Universal Credit, for example.
The ripples of this pandemic will be felt for years to come, particularly to those directly affected, but also our the education system as a whole will possible take longer to recover. Things will never be the same again.
Thank you to the teaching profession for everything you are doing at this difficult time.