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In recent weeks we have read worrying accounts of significant numbers of students seemingly vanishing without trace – not logging into online lessons, not submitting homework, not responding to emails from school staff – the fragile threads connecting teacher, learner and family severed and the learning dialogue broken.
For optimal learning to occur, we know the importance of a strong relationship, based on trust, respect and understanding, between school and home. It is those schools which have invested in building this relationship that are seeing the threads of communication remain intact, even over a prolonged lock-down period. Where leaders have arranged home visits at transition to meet the family and get to know the home learning set up, they have
demonstrated powerfully the importance they attach to working in partnership with parents and carers. They have had an opportunity to assess and discuss how conducive the home environment is to study – whether the student has access to a computer, Wi-Fi and a printer, whether they have a quiet place to study, whether they have an adult on hand to assist or an older sibling who can be a study-buddy. Parents are more likely to give honest and open responses to questions about the logistics of home learning when in dialogue face-to-face with staff members in the home, rather than, perhaps, just ticking ‘yes’ to a survey question asking whether there is a computer at home, when the reality might be that there is only one and it is used throughout the day by the parent for work.
Schools which have taken the time to get to know the home environment are in a position to take swift action to facilitate home learning – supplying a dongle to give internet access, a laptop or iPad from school in times of lockdown, setting up a study group of peers who will encourage each other in their home learning and check in daily to discuss learning tasks. Where schools have prioritised training for all staff in how to build and sustain strong relationships with parents and carers, they are more likely to be able to maintain these links during lock down periods. Where schools have allocated all vulnerable learners an adult advocate who has invested time to get to know the family well, meeting regularly with the student to support them in their learning and with the parent/carer to champion their needs and enable them to best support their child, contact is more likely to be maintained.
My hope is that, post lock-down, more schools will develop and implement aspirational parental engagement policies and practices, built around the following six key activities:
The time invested will be repaid tenfold. The benefits will extend well beyond the COVID 19 crisis.
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