We had been muddling through and making the best of things, but I felt really quite low after the Prime Minister’s address on Sunday night. As the realisation dawned that there were to be many more months of this – with our arrangement only getting more complicated as my year six child is sent back to school while the other two remain at home – it all felt pretty overwhelming.
To be fair to the boys – Rex, 13, Arthur, 11, and Rory, eight, – they have been pretty good these past few weeks. The 13 year old has mainly got on with it and done the lessons set for him unsupervised. But if the eight year old needs to sit and do a piece of work, he needs an adult to do it with him from start to finish. The 11-year-old is ok once you’ve got him started, but needs someone to set him up.
Still, we were beginning to get into some kind of rhythm, only to be told it’s all about to change and my 11-year-old will be expected to go back to school again in June. Of course it’ll be nice for him to have some time at school before going to secondary school, but it doesn’t alleviate things at all for us at home – it’s the eight-year-old who needs the most hands-on attention.
My husband is an electrician and has been working on an essential project so he’s out of the house at 5:30am. I work three days a week and juggling homeschooling with work hasn’t always been smooth sailing even before this. It’s lose lose, really, because when I’m locked in my bedroom working I feel guilty because I know the kids are playing on the playstation, watching TV and when I’m downstairs helping them I feel guilty because you don’t want to be seen to be not pulling your weight or let the other members of your team down. Still, every day I count our blessings – we have enough space, our WiFi is pretty good and our jobs are relatively secure, for the moment at least.
The summer term fees for my daughter’s London day school were 15 per cent lower than normal, though paying them still hurt. Particularly since my son’s education, at a state school in Euston, is blissfully free. Seeing how much effort the teachers at my daughter’s school are making, I feel I’m getting pretty good value for money. She clocks in every morning at 8.30 and from then on, she’s following a set timetable for the whole day up till 4pm – with some science lessons on Zoom as well as music and singing lessons which take place as normal one-to-one for half an hour a week. It’s lovely to hear the mournful (occasionally squeaky) notes of the clarinet waft round the house as we work. That’s almost the only input we have to have. She manages her time, does her lessons, delivers her homework, and gets feedback. When she forgot to check in with her form tutor one morning, I got an email from the school asking if she was OK.
This contrasts with the education our son’s currently receiving. The only communication we’ve had with the school is screeds of emailed tasks dumped into our inboxes for each subject in an apparently endless flood. They can’t offer virtual lessons since there’s no guarantee all the pupils will have access to a laptop. There seems to be a total lack of structure. My husband, thankfully, is a natural teacher (though that’s not what he does for a living), so he’s sorted a timetable for our son with FaceTime French lessons from my mum (a retired academic) and science lessons from my dad (a retired doctor). My husband does the maths and history. I take over for English and geography. We’re both working full time mostly from home and just about coping. But what about the families who don’t happen to have academic grandparents to help? The difference between the fee-paying school and the free one is pretty stark.
‘My daughters are at state schools – I’m a lousy teacher – which makes me a lousy mum, too’
To say I feel a failure is an understatement, but I have a ten-year-old who simply refuses to be taught and it’s destroying family life. My six-year-old, he’ll play Lego all day if he could and will do whatever is asked in terms of school work. But his sister is being really negative about all the stuff being uploaded onto the school website.
I realise that when NHS staff are dying as they struggle to save people perishing on ventilators it’s selfish – obscene – to get so upset about Year Five numeracy and literacy, so the whole issue is bound up in shame.
It’s not helped by the fact there’s also a bone-idle 18 year-old lounging around all day, demob happy because his A Levels were cancelled. My husband has unofficially opted out because “working from home” takes up more of his day than commuting. I sometimes find him at the computer playing Solitaire after he’s clocked off; essentially he’s hiding from the rest of us. Cue massive arguments.
I used to praise my daughter’s strength of character. Now I feel blind rage at her unreasonable stubbornness. She is just a lackadaisical ten-year-old who needs to be at school. She will accept no substitute. Certainly not me, screaming over and over “just do it!”
In moments of madness I bribe her brother to teach her; tears, shouting and swearing. In moments of sanity I know it shouldn’t matter. We are safe in the middle of a pandemic.
But I also know that I am a lousy teacher and that is making me a lousy mother. Which is the most heartbreaking thing of all.
‘We know – via friends – that students at private schools are being so well-supported, by comparison’
By Jane Samuels
There has often been a resource gap between state and private education in this country, but after the coronavirus pandemic, we are in danger of that gap drifting wider than it has ever been.
My two girls, Ruby, 16, and Bonnie, 12, attend – or attended, until mid-March – a good, local state school in North London. Since then they’ve been at home and, like many of their peers, have been pretty much left to their own devices to motivate and initiate their learning.
Bonnie, who is in Year 7, has had some help. A constant stream of homework-type tasks are sent by the school each day, but she has had no direct contact with teachers and the tasks are fairly counterproductive and frustrating if they introduce concepts she hasn’t yet been taught. (Try completing an algebra worksheet without first knowing what algebra is…)
Ruby, on the other hand, was in Year 11, about to start her GCSEs. She has had very little work and virtually no teacher support. It is a strange, disappointing situation. Some of Ruby’s education remains incomplete; she hadn’t finished her syllabus in some subjects. All those years building up to GCSEs, and now she and her peers are abandoned at the last, critical moment.
What makes all this especially frustrating is that we know – via friends – that students at private schools are being so well-supported, by comparison. At Ruby’s age, teachers are in contact with pupils, operating virtual classrooms and continuing their syllabuses from 9am-3pm every day. I had heard that GDPR and safeguarding made teacher-pupil contact difficult, but the private sector has evidently found a way around that.
More concerning, however, is the difference at Ruby’s age, where private school pupils are engaged in online ‘A-Level bridging programmes’ that not only keep them stimulated and learning, but help them transition to sixth form.
Those of us with children in state schools do not need reminding of the inequalities in the education system, that greater opportunities and facilities can be bought, but this disturbance in the level playing field goes beyond the traditional state/private debate. If privately-educated GCSE and A-Level pupils are continuing to be taught and supported through this pandemic while many of their state counterparts are not, will that be taken into account at exam and selection time? Will Ruby be at a disadvantage when she applies for universities? Or even when she competes for jobs?
My daughters are relatively lucky. They have access to computers, iPads and phones to help them with studying, and we live in a stable, healthy, loving household so far untouched by the virus.
As this pandemic has accelerated and lockdown continued, however, it is becoming clearer and clearer that their whole generation could end up divided not only by how they were educated generally, but also specifically by these extraordinary times. The fissure was there already; now it is growing. If we want to create a society that is moving forward and better than the last, the government needs to stop the spread.
As told to Guy Kelly
‘I have two boys at private school – they’ve never been busier’
I can’t pretend it didn’t hurt to receive the whopping bill for the next term’s school fees in the same email that informed us that my sons would be studying from home for the foreseeable future. (Even more irritating was the accompanying letter laying out the hike in fees from September.)
But since then, I have been pretty impressed with the efforts that the school has made to maintain an esprit de corps among the pupils. My two boys are busy from 8.30am, when they have to log in for remote registration; they’re encouraged to join in a daily assembly and even to sing the hymns (though I can’t pretend this has ever happened at our house); and their days are kept filled with a mixture of live lessons on Zoom, assignments on Google Classroom and imaginative projects, such as PE challenges, or mathematics illustrated through baking. Both are musical; one son has been filming himself singing his tenor part in a choral work, which the head of music is assembling for an online concert, while the other is having his piano lessons live on Skype.
The eldest would now be on study leave prior to taking his GCSEs; instead, he has started on a programme of A-level study and preparation for sixth form, with taster lessons in a wide variety of subjects that have already made him think he might want to change his choices for next year.
Best of all, as the schools are still so involved, I’m left free to get on with my work day undisturbed. And that is is worth its weight in gold to me.
Now get the children’s perspective. Click here to read how young people’s experiences of homeschooling are shaping up.