By Owen Sheppard, Local Democracy Reporter
Teachers fear that worrying numbers of children from poorer backgrounds who still do not have full access to computers and tablets are falling behind with their education.
When the new lockdown was announced on January 4, teachers once again found themselves having to turn their work lives upside down and reinvent their classrooms online.
One primary school teacher spoke of a family with five siblings, who at one point had to take it in turns to use their mother’s phone to access their school work.
A secondary school teacher said a small number of his pupils had developed problems such as depression during the first lockdown, which caused them to fall behind.
Clare Layton, who teaches English as an additional language (EAL) at Fulham Primary School, said: “This time it’s been better because we’re a lot better equipped. The first time it was shocking. So many children were without devices.”
The 33-year-old said her colleagues, after hearing the Prime Minister’s lockdown announcement last week, rushed to get devices out to pupils.
“I managed to get some charities to donate 100 tablets to us and we were able to send out a lot to families,” she said.
“We asked friends, family and everyone we could for spare devices. But I know lots of schools that are not in our situation.”
Some 30 languages are spoken at the school, and it can be difficult helping children whose parents aren’t fluent in English. “Thank god for Google translate,” Ms Layton added.
Unsurprisingly, disadvantaged children and pupils who need extra attention are most at risk of falling behind.
“Everything we teach is on a continuum. If you pause they will go backwards because they’re not practising,” said Ms Layton.
“With teaching remotely, you’re not there to read what they’re writing or help them with vocabulary. You can’t help them in real time.
“You could say to a Year 5 class ‘today we’re going to write a story’ and normally expect them to write a few pages. At the end of the class you’d find some of them had written a paragraph.”
A secondary school science teacher, who asked not to be named, said some of his pupils had fallen back due to psychological problems.
“I had a few who went through depressive stages,” he said. “And for some who don’t have devices and have had psychological problems it’s been a real uphill struggle.
“I think there are still some kids without devices but the school is doing a lot more to identify them.”
The teacher, who has worked in Fulham for four years, said his own work-life balance has been strained by the sudden changes.
“I became the head of my department so there’s more administrative work to do, and I’m a parent. This year there’s been a few switches from having to teach my students to having to teach my kids. I’m getting less of a break. The balance has been thrown off,” he said.
But a possible silver lining, the science teacher said, was that his form group has more opportunities to tell him how they’re feeling, and about issues they might have.
“I can call them and we can email each other, so they have an extra outlet if they need it. There’s someone to keep an eye on them,” he said.
David Anderson, a maths teacher and a joint secretary to Hammersmith and Fulham’s National Education Union branch, said his colleagues at Fulham Cross Academy were now video recording their online lessons.
“Some families don’t have enough devices or their internet connection is bad. So we’re recording lessons so that they can watch them when they can,” he said.
“And we’re doing check-ins so that children can call us and ask for extra help.
“It’s really challenging (teaching remotely). Nothing replaces that connection when you’re in the room and the children can ask questions.
“Often the kids are more reluctant to put their hands up and say they don’t understand something, even though that’s the point – my job is to teach them things they don’t know.
“Overall, it’s much harder to know what the children are thinking.”
Pictured top: David Anderson, a maths teacher and a joint secretary to Hammersmith and Fulham’s National Education Union branch
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