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Expert opinion from IOE, UCL's Faculty of Education and Society


Mind the gap: will home learning reinforce inequality and what can we do about it?

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 2 April 2020


Clare Brooks, Eleanor Kitto and Carole Scott.

In the first of two blog posts on home learning and young children in these extraordinary times, we highlighted how clear and practical research evidence can help schools and parents find principles to guide them during the closure of schools and early years settings.

The Effective Pre-School, Primary and Secondary Education (EPPSE) project, for example, shows what types of child-adult interactions help learning and demonstrates the tremendous importance of children’s home learning environments.

We should also consider that a period of learning at home could reinforce inequalities between children, and that months away from school could mean that emerging learning problems are missed by professionals.

Those from homes which are well-resourced with games, activities, dialogue and reading materials may continue to make progress through high-quality parental interactions, whilst others will miss out. However, it is important to emphasise that everyday items around the house (items of food, cardboard boxes etc) can also be used as educational tools by parents and carers. Vegetables might be sorted by colour or shape, stairs can be counted and the words and pictures on packaging used to develop early reading skills.

Parents are their children’s first educators and time to support their children’s development at home could be extremely positive and rewarding. However, it cannot be assumed that all parents have the knowledge, confidence and time to maximise the learning opportunities for their children. Schools and settings have a crucial role to play here. How they support parents in promoting and evaluating their children’s development in all seven Areas of Learning will have an impact upon the children’s progress and parents’ own experiences.

However, working with parents in this way does lead to questions about the use and value of assessments of young children. Whilst formal assessments have been cancelled for this year, schools and settings will need to consider the advice they give teachers and practitioners about ongoing teacher assessment and accountability.

No school wants to see a dip in attainment for their current cohorts. But how teachers can assess the progress of children, particularly in the areas identified in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), when they are not present and able to observe them is a big question. Assessments made on the basis of the academic year so far will miss out on a full third of the normal time in school.

Assessment of children’s progression towards the Early Learning Goals provides valuable insights into some areas of development such as getting dressed or using the toilet unsupervised which are not assessed formally as children progress into KS1.

And professionals may miss opportunities to recognise atypical development trajectories if they are not having regular contact with the children. Assessments of development conducted at a distance will present only a partial insight into what a child can do. We also need to be mindful that if children are not in a setting, then they may miss the ‘progress check at age two’ (DfE, 2017). This, potentially, means that opportunities for early intervention into any emerging concerns may be missed. How settings and schools use their expertise to support parents to consider, and provide for, their children’s developmental progress at this time, has potential long term benefits for continued parental involvement in education.

Finally, many teachers and parents have expressed concern about the social and emotional impact on children. Key worker children who continue to attend school settings are unlikely to be engaging in vastly different activities to those kept at home, but will benefit from mixed social grouping. Many children at home will value the additional time they can now spend with members of their household, and being in a supportive and stimulating environment can help to reassure them in these turbulent and upsetting times. Of course, this won’t be the case for all children (and particular consideration will need to be given to them), but supportive communication from schools and early years settings, grounded in the principles of high-quality education and care, can be of a real help to children at this time, and may have lasting effects into the future.

In preparation for when schools and early years settings reopen, policy makers need to consider the implications of this period of closure: what will it mean for how we assess our children in the short, medium and long-term? How will this change the role that parents seek to have in their children’s education? What additional social and educational support will our children and their educators need as they try to bring life back to normal? How will we compare schools, and year-on-year attainment, and will we still need to? And what has this period taught us about the value of inspections, accountability and the role of schools and early years settings in society?

Resources to support learning at home can be found here.

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