Blog: A home-schooling model for lockdown

Published: 4 Jan 2021

Author: Helen Minnis
Blog: A home-schooling model for lockdown

What does a working parent do when their child is sent home because of Covid-19? And what if that parent’s employer expects them to meet the usual deadlines and targets – or if the child has special educational needs?

"This balancing act that families are facing gave me the idea of Closed Childcare Clusters (CCCs), where groups of families can home-school together." - Helen Minnis, Fellow

There is no doubt that the pandemic has been stressful for working families with young children. It has been tough for schools as well, to find solutions that keep everyone safe while allowing children to see their friends and reach their educational potential. And parents thinking of keeping their child at home, due to worries about Covid-19, have even been threatened with fines

This balancing act that families are facing gave me the idea of Closed Childcare Clusters (CCCs), where groups of families can home-school together. That basic idea has been honed with input from various colleagues from the University of Glasgow, including Disease Modelling expert Dr Jess Enright and researcher Papoula Petri-Romao. To form CCCs, parents take turns once or twice a week to educate all of the children in the cluster, with the support of their schools. In addition to reducing stress, CCCs would mean that parents are free to work on the days that their children are in their neighbours’ homes.

But is this a safe alternative? We have worked closely with teachers and parents from Scottish Borders Council to find out. First, Jess provided some basic information about how Covid-19 spreads in populations and Papoula presented this in workshops with teachers and parents, along with our ideas about how CCCs might work. Armed with their new understanding of the way diseases like Covid-19 can spread, our teacher and parent collaborators offered suggestions about how CCCs might work in practice in the Borders.

Jess then developed more detailed models showing which of their suggestions were safest and what families could do to make each option work best. For example, while most families were comfortable with the idea of sharing home schooling with some of their friends and neighbours, a few families preferred to form clusters with extended family such as grandparents. As we all know, it is the older members of our society who are most at risk of serious illness or even death from Covid-19, so grandparent clusters are not to be taken lightly. Jess’s models were able to show that while neighbour clusters are safest, grandparent clusters are still likely to be safe if the parents stick to the rules.

Our teacher and parent collaborators came up with a plan, a bit like a funnel, where most families would cluster with their neighbours, but a few would cluster only with their own extended family. They also recommended that there is still a ‘local school hub’, where each school would remain open for those few children who needed skilled supervision of their learning from teachers and classroom assistants. This would be a safe environment, since there would be plenty of space for social distancing.

In December 2020, I was awarded a Covid-19 Action Fund grant from WCMT, and without this, we wouldn’t have been able to continue our work. However, there are lots of questions that need to be answered before CCCs could be rolled out across the UK. For example, would the Scottish Borders model work in a socially deprived urban area? How would things work for families with lots of children across a wide age range? How would it work for families whose children have special educational needs? The Covid-19 Action Fund is allowing us to finish our work in Scottish Borders and explore these kinds of questions in other areas of the UK.

Three Scottish Borders schools are already beginning to develop ‘resilience plans’ with our support. Teachers and parents are getting together to discuss the current challenges in their area and decide who will do what in the event of any future school closures. Specifically, these resilience plans will outline which families will cluster with which other families, which families will cluster only with extended family and who will use the local school hub. Early next year, we’ll be making similar plans with colleagues in Leeds, to extend our work to England. The disease modelling aspects will become important again to ensure that, whatever plans teachers and parents come up to suit their needs, they are as safe as possible. We are aiming to produce a manual to support schools who want to devise their own resilience plans, so those schools – and every family with children attending those schools - are well prepared for any future school closures.

Families with young children have really been hit hard in 2020. Even with the wonderful news of a new vaccine, it’s going to be a while before life is back to normal. Let’s hope that my Action Fund project can give us all some hope for 2021.

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