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Is Home Schooling in a mess?

Fluffy slime. Dead easy to make with just 3 simple ingredients - wood glue, food colouring and shower gel. Add the ingredients together, mix with a spatula and hey presto, beautiful looking pastel coloured “fluffy” slime with a consistent texture and wonderful stretch properties. What could be more satisfying for an eight year old?

40 minutes later, the 3 simple ingredients had been expanded to include contact lens solution, cornflour and various other household chemicals to create some slime. However, it did not resemble the enticing slime in the YouTube clip that inspired this process. It had a greater resemblance to the lead of a 1950s sci-fi horror movie. Instead of the promised wonderful stretch properties, this slime preferred to stick to human skin and any other surface it came into contact with. With the possible exception of being the subject of later tales of woe, this substance had no reason for existing but its adhesive properties meant it wasn’t going without a fight.

As the silent rage (or was it disappointment?) built inside me, matched only by my daughter’s frustration, I quickly estimated that the typical cost of buying fluffy slime online, a few quid with free delivery, was considerably less than the cost of the materials my daughter had poured into the mixing bowl - a bowl that was now covered in a substance that also covered my daughter’s hands, the kitchen table, a spatula, several spoons and the containers of every ingredient used, none of which I had any desire to touch again. I now understood why the creators of the video had disabled the ability to comment on their YouTube clip. 44,837 views and countless environmental disasters, there’s no way the slime created by watching this clip is going to biodegrade in my lifetime.

How did a father old enough to know better allow this to happen? Two simple words sum it up. Home schooling. After watching a clip to help my daughter and her Year 4 peers grasp the concept of this week’s maths assignments set by her school, some clever YouTube algorithm directed her to the fluffy slime clip. “Daddy can I make some fluffy slime?”. Nope, you’ve got to complete your maths work. “Pleeeease. I promise to finish all my maths if you let me”. My split second hesitation whilst I weighed up the pros and cons was fatal, what I think they call a ‘buying signal’ in the sales industry. “It’s really easy and it only takes 10 minutes”. Surely a no-brainer, 10 minutes of slime making followed by hours focused on completing a week’s maths assignments, what could go wrong?

At this point I have to admit to being a secondary school teacher with over 30 years of experience of teaching teenagers yet all of my usual powers of persuasion, coercion and attempts to inspire have been regularly unravelled by a child who has mastered the art of hesitation. Yet within a few hours I watched my daughter enthusiastically prepare for an online music lesson with her tutor. The following day I held an online lesson for 15 of my Year 10 students and their live-chat comments and thanks at the end of the lesson reminded me I hadn’t suddenly lost the ability to teach successfully. So why can’t I get my daughter to engage in her home schooling with the same enthusiasm she had for her music lesson or my students had for my online lesson?

I guess the answer is very simple. I’m her dad. I’m not her school teacher. The premise of home schooling relies on parents having the ability to cover the role of their children’s teachers and there are a large number of parents that have made that possible but a far greater number of parents have struggled with this transition since the schools closed on 20 March. Considering that the bulk of children in Years 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8 and 9 will have very little, if any, time in school before September, that means that thousands of children will have had very mixed experiences of homeschooling for the best part of six months in the UK. That’s without factoring in the Year 11 and Year 13 students who lost the opportunity to sit their GCSE and A-level exams or experience the usual cycle of preparing for exams that will be a feature of their college, sixth form or university careers.

The NEU, the UK’s largest teaching union has proposed a 10 point plan to help students recover from the impact of the schools’ closure. One key point states “Plans must be made for blended learning – pupils learning at school and at home – from September and into the next academic year, with all pupils having both face-to-face contact and remote learning when this is safe. These plans will be needed in case of a second spike or a rise in a local R rate.

If the NEU, which represents 450,000 teachers and education professionals in the UK, recognises that children may need to continue “remote learning” in the autumn, then the Department for Education’s (DfE) press release on June 19 hammers the point home with a promise that “Children in England are set to benefit from a £1 billion Covid “catch-up” package to directly tackle the impact of lost teaching time”.

However, reading the details more closely will reveal that this package is targeted at the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children. The press release states that “The National Tutoring Programme is designed to reach up to two million of England’s most disadvantaged children.” This is to be applauded but when the DfE’s own data suggests that nearly 9 million pupils attend school on a normal day, then three quarters of our school children may get little or no benefit from this extra funding. With all the other concerns of returning to work, the loss of income and steady employment, redundancies and the continued health risks, the prospect of continued homeschooling is another issue many parents will not want to face again this autumn.

So what can we, as parents, do to help our children? Well one solution could be to employ a tutor. In the DfE’s press release, the chairman of the Sutton Trust is quoted as saying “Extensive trials show that high-quality tuition is a cost-effective way to enable pupils to catch up.” Organisations such as Tutor Doctor can provide high quality tuition both online and face-to-face and work alongside schools to ensure the students they work with get effective and relevant tutoring. Besides the academic support tutoring can provide our children, research has found that one-to-one tutoring can help students boost their self-confidence levels. This is hardly a surprising revelation. For example, my daughter is far more likely to be boosted by her music teacher telling her she is playing a piece well than by me saying the same because she knows that (a) I’d probably praise her for any painful sound she produces and (b) my knowledge of music could be confined to a postage stamp. With gaps. Another popular method of maintaining self-confidence levels? Try avoiding simple fluffy slime recipes...

By Leroy Bogle, Education Consultant at Tutor Doctor Bristol

Photo by Jamie Harrington