There are “clear disparities” between remote learning opportunities being offered by schools, the Children’s Commissioner for England has said.
Anne Longfield said it is “not acceptable” that some children are unable to learn during lockdown and called for those learning remotely to have daily contact with their teachers.
Some schools have said they will not do any live sessions at all for younger children – citing safeguarding issues and staffing constraints.
In contrast, other schools live-stream what is happening in the classroom with the children of keyworkers, including some interaction for youngsters at home.
Others have a structured timetable and live lessons as well as pre-recorded video clips in between.
A number of schools are reporting a higher turnout of eligible pupils on site – including children of critical workers and those classed as vulnerable – than in the March lockdown, prompting concerns about their ability to balance remote education with in-person teaching.
It came as Education Secretary Gavin Williamson set out his expectations for schools during the latest lockdown, saying parents can contact Ofsted if they are unhappy with the offer and have previously raised concerns with their headteacher.
Ms Longfield said: “Every child has the right to a good education and it is not acceptable that some children are unable to learn, through no fault of their own, because of a lack of technology, or because their home circumstances prevent them being able to work effectively.
“There are also clearly disparities between what schools are offering children in terms of remote lessons.
“I want the Government to commit to ensuring that all children have access to technical equipment and broadband to support remote learning, alongside an urgent review of guidance for schools to ensure make sure that children receive a broad and balanced curriculum, whether at home or at school. As a minimum, those children learning remotely should have daily contact with teachers.
“We know the negative impact the last long lockdown had on the wellbeing of many children and I want to see a speeding-up of the process of introducing mental health support and counselling in every school.”
Mr Williamson told the House of Commons on Wednesday that the schools watchdog will enforce legal requirements for state schools in England to provide high-quality remote education during the lockdown.
Education Secretary outlines plans to support young people.
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— Department for Education (@educationgovuk) January 6, 2021
He said schools are expected to provide between three and five hours of teaching a day – and if parents feel their child is not receiving enough learning they should complain to the school first and then ultimately to Ofsted.
The Department for Education said it expects schools to have a digital platform, such as G-Suite or Microsoft Education, and to provide at least some of their remote teaching via video lessons – this can be done by school-led videos or using other providers like Oak National Academy.
Mr Williamson confirmed that children who do not have access to technology are seen as vulnerable and can attend school in person during the national lockdown.
One thread on the Mumsnet website showed that parents are concerned about the disparities in learning.
“I’m concerned about DD falling behind compared to the keyworker children in her class who are being taught by the teacher,” one parent wrote.
Another said: “There seems to be big disparities in what the offers are.”
One parent said they felt “so disheartened” with the offer from their school, writing: “I have a Year 6 who’s had a maths worksheet and two bite-size clips to watch today.
“It’s the same provision as the last lockdown. I’m so disappointed; I thought it would be better this time round.
“Then I read on here about other primary age children having live lessons and a more structured timetable and it makes me so disheartened.”
Another said: “My Year 5 son is getting three 30-45 minute live lessons per day (his teacher working from home, with his children at home) plus the accompanying work, plus reading.”
And one parent said: “Unfortunately we are just getting worksheets and links to bite-size.”