From cookery show to lessons on Playstation: how schools are teaching remotely

Schools closing has been hard for students and parents alike, but families and teaching staff have learned a lot of previous lockdowns and have been finding creative ways to adapt to remote learning.

We asked teachers, parents and experts for tips on how to get the best out homeschooling.

CEO and headteacher of Cornerstone Academy Trust in Devon, Jonathan Bishop believes live interaction with their teachers is important for his pupils.

And when Jonathan’s pupils log on for a school day, that’s just what they can look forward to. “I think that’s been a really key component for us,” he says. “We’ve received really good feedback because it creates a typical day, and that’s helped give the kids some normality.”

The schools worked quickly to identify which pupils needed support with devices or technology and helped ensure that could be delivered. But it doesn’t stop there. “It’s more important to set up a process and work in partnership with parents, providing the support they need, than simply saying a device solves the problem,” says Jonathan. “And a lot of that is about training, so we offer a lot of parent training.”

He encourages pupils to take regular breaks – and welcomes the whole family on his Friday afternoon “Baking with the Bishops” cookery show. “It’s fundamentally important to be active,” he says. “Being isolated and sitting looking at a screen all day every day – even if it’s interactive like this – is soul destroying. I believe people need to be collaborative.

“Some families do artwork together. For us it’s doing some baking – measuring out the ingredients and following a recipe. Baking with the Bishops is about that interaction, that humour – and it’s an opportunity for me to say to all of the children in the trust, thank you for working hard.

“It’s a chance to bring families together, and it also allows me to pass on key messages.

Our big drive is for purposeful learning. Finding out more about science, for example, can be fascinating if we have a thirst for knowledge.

“I think lockdown has pushed many families to view remote learning as just an isolated experience, with children sitting at the kitchen table or in the bedroom, trying to complete work to submit back to the teacher. For us, though, despite being under a lot of pressure, we’re in this together.”

Meanwhile, principal of Havelock Academy in Grimsby, Emma Marshall is supporting pupils with “cheer-up” videos, weekly welfare calls and a structured timetable of lessons.

A mum-of-two as well as a principal, Emma Marshall knows what parents are going through as their children embark on remote learning.

“I understand why parents are concerned,” she says. “I’m a parent myself. My kids are 12 and 17. My son is in the middle of his A-levels and is hopefully due to be off to university in September. Thankfully he’d already really worked for his mocks. But now he’s a bit like, ‘Well, I’m not doing my exams’, so I have to remind him to keep working.”

Emma lists resilience as one of the key things young people need as they navigate this tricky time – and her school provides structure as well as practical help in terms of technology. “We’re making sure we build their resilience, so some of the skills we’re now looking at honing could be important life skills in a way that perhaps the more traditional curriculum doesn’t address,” she says. “Resilience is really important. We launched our ‘Havelock Hive’ which is built on a beehive idea, with everybody working together. It supports team spirit – it’s something we dreamt up in lockdown one and now it’s become a big part of our curriculum.

“All of us are learning something new at the moment. For me it’s technology – I mean, wow! I couldn’t do what I’m doing now without it. That’s the same for all of us. I think if we’d have told the kids in lockdown one that they’d be doing their lessons all day on their PlayStation they would have laughed at us! But they’re doing it and it’s amazing.”

A visual timetable, a good routine and plenty of exercise will all help your children, says clinical psychologist Dr Kate Mason.

“Younger children especially are emotional sponges, so they take their lead from us,” she explains. “It’s good to come from a place of calm – if children are calm they are more able to learn.

“Make a visual timetable so they can see what is going to happen during that day and that week. Kids thrive with structure; it helps them feel safe when they know what is coming next. Make the plan together with them and include lots of downtime and fun activities. It’s important to keep them looking forward.

“There’s so much more that will benefit your kids too. Looking after the basics: diet, sleep, exercise and encouraging them
to keep talking. Being curious: validate their opinions; ask them for their advice (‘What do YOU think I should do in this situation?’) The ability to think flexibly needs developing because it’s not fully mature until a person is 24. Things like this will help develop their resilience and their confidence.

“If English, maths, science, projects and so on aren’t going well, take a break and start to help their brains develop in other ways. Going out for walks, you could count the trees together. Ask them to go and find five things that are red, four things that are shiny, etc. It’s another way to learn.

“Put the subtitles on the TV and get them to read them. And a lot of recent children’s films are brilliant for providing opportunities to talk about feelings. Exercise is key too – a bit of Joe Wicks is great for kids.

“Keep in mind that parents are not teachers and have a bit of self compassion. Kids are designed to push their parents’ buttons and you’ll feel frustrated at times, so if that happens take a break – and then try again.”

Mum-of-four Julie Tucker is impressed by how her daughters’ secondary school has improved its remote learning provision since
the first lockdown.

Every morning her two teenage girls begin their school day at 8.30am, and live lessons continue until 3.30pm.

“It’s now much more organised and structured,” says Julie, 51. “It was more haphazard early on. It’s been a huge learning curve for everybody.”

Julie’s abiding memory of the first lockdown is struggling to teach maths to 13-year-old Amy: “It was a real challenge as I have maths dyslexia. Often I’d have to Google how to do something, teach myself to do it, and then help Amy.”

Since March, Julie has been working at home in Edgware, London, for her job with a flexible workspace company. “I’m lucky because the girls are very conscientious and just get on with it,” she says.

“Abi is 17 and doing her A-levels, and she’d much rather be at school with her friends. She really misses it, and it’s hard for her to get motivated now that they’re not going to do exams. She’s lost a sense of direction.”

Julie focuses on a good balance for her girls, especially Abi, whom she encourages to see her friends online daily: “I’m just trying to support her and relieve the pressure – I always advise her to strike a balance between workload and downtime.”

Every evening Abi meets up with her friends to chat online and play games.

“That social element has been so important,” says Julie. “Her friendship group is 50 percent of the reason she loves going to school.”

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