Government is trying to get schools open before the academic year ends. Many Tories have long wanted to open primary schools in particular, so parents can get back to work –so reducing further hits to the economy; but others including the Childrens Commissioner, the Head of Ofsted and some Labour front-benchers, are now increasingly concerned about how closures have widened educational inequalities further . Thus an LSE study finds:
…more educated parents spending more time with their children in educational activities. On top of this, parents with more financial resources will certainly be better able to pay for online private tuition, from the wide range of services available from websites and tutoring agencies…
while extensive research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies points out, among other things, that many children don’t have the space to work effectively at home.
A Sutton Trust investigation also shows students at different types of schools have different types of experiences, particularly in terms of access to on-line teaching. Thus:
…at private schools, 51% of primary and 57% of secondary students have accessed online lessons every day, more than twice as likely as their counterparts in state schools….Teachers were asked for their preferred strategies to prevent some pupils from falling behind during the period of shutdown. Over half of secondary teachers cited the provision of tech devices……28% of the most advantaged state schools had offered devices to pupils in need, compared to just 15% in the most deprived schools where need is highest.
But even if the government concedes to the legitimate concerns of teacher unions and many parents (the IFS reports that even amongst parents less able to educate at home, a majority oppose schools reopening in June), in the absence of a vaccine, social distancing is going to continue- maybe into 2021 – and so ‘normal’ schooling is unlikely to be possible, let alone being safe, in September either. As a result large numbers of students, most likely those older, will be spending at least significant parts of their week off-site. The inequalities and the other difficulties of teaching and learning online will need to be challenged and as the Brighouse/Moon contribution below argue, online learning used in positive ways.
The virus has changed the way large numbers of people work – 40% + are working from home compared to around 12% a year ago and many,
recognising the advantages will want to continue this way. Yet schools continue to be organised around industrial ‘Fordist’ principles, with large numbers of students following inflexible timetables, cramming themselves into inadequate buildings which then remain closed for over 150 days a year.
Of course, education is not like office based work and it remains the case it’s those in better paid employment that are able to reap the advantages of home working, but alternatives are possible and necessary.