How we engaged parents with home learning during school closures

Tim Head

Tim Head is an assistant head in a large Nottinghamshire Primary School, with 17 years of teaching experience working in large Primary schools across the East Midlands. One of the organisers of the Primary Rocks Live conference, he loves to share his passion for all things teaching and edtech through the #PrimaryRocks Twitter chat, as well as presenting at educational conferences. Tim is a keen blogger, and has written for the TES, Teach Primary and Innovate My School.

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I think it is safe to say that the Covid-19 situation caught us all a little unawares. We have seen epidemics like SARS and EBOLA before, but these have always been stopped before being able to spread. This time was different. The grim inevitability of school closures was upon us and this meant we had to make plans and fast.

As an aside, call me a cynic but I am old enough to remember the push for all children to have access to a ‘learning platform’ and email. This was something that was a requirement for all schools around 2010. It strikes me that had this not been quietly disposed of because schools hated the idea, we would have been in a far better place to deal with school closures. We would have already had a ready-made solution, but I digress. Some ‘light’ reading here:

At my school, as soon as closure looked likely at some point, we started to put our contingency plans into action. We had all of the elements in place, we were already a big user of social media and we had dipped our toe into the waters of Google Drive as staff. 

Our home learning plans were rolled out in a number of stages.

Stage one - Those children who were self-isolating before the school closures: We launched a Google document with links to online activities that we had access to. TT Rockstars, purple mash, BBC Bitesize etc. This was available to all children who were not able to be at school for that time. We had always planned to release some of the stage two materials for these children, but the fateful news came via the daily BorisCast and that, as they say, was that.

Stage two - Prior to closure, all children were given log in reminders for the services we use in school (PurpleMash/TTrockstars/Numbots). We gave them the access details for our Google Drive accounts that the children use in school on our chromebooks. They were also given a poly pocket containing three reading books, some grammar revision booklets we use in school, and some paper worksheet activities. We recognised that some parents do not have access to computers, or struggle to do so. We continue to offer a printing service for those families who need paper copies.

Stage three – Prior to closure, teachers populated a shared Drive on our school Google system. They added links and activities for their year group and classes focussing on English, Maths and other topics. This is updated regularly and new items are added via a weekly update letter from the teachers. On PurpleMash the teachers set a number of 2Dos activities. This slightly scattergun approach was deliberate to give those who wanted more plenty to do, but also to cater to others who wanted less of a range of activities to choose from.

Stage four - Lockdown:  


We released the Shared drive to parents via Facebook and our parents email system. Facebook has become our main form of communication with parents as it allows us to be agile and share resources quickly. We are able to signpost parents to resources such as Joe Wicks, BBC Bitesize and our Patron of reading. More than this, it has become a focus for the school community with teachers sharing stories each night, sing-along Sundays and the odd live session. We made the decision that we would not live stream lessons, but host live sessions where children of all ages and parents could join in with maths games, crafts and some kitchen science. 

It is far from perfect, but it is the best we have for now.  We are continuing to draw together the best resources out there. Some children will soak it up and relish the challenge of home learning, others not so much. At the end of the day, pupils are resilient.  They will bounce back. Our priority is and will always be their health and safety first above everything. If we can provide a hub that supports the families and the children then that is what we do. 

Parental engagement at this time is crucial in being able to support those parents who now need access to FSM vouchers, who need signposting to other services and also being there to support the most vulnerable children, through phone calls to home and dropping off emergency food parcels to those who most need it.

Whatever happens from now on, the online learning genie is out of the bottle. Prepare for endless online learning platforms springing up and fighting for the ££. I do not have an issue with this as long as it is for the benefit of the pupils and not just a money-making vehicle, which is why in my opinion it failed the first time round. It has to work well and be accessible for parents. 

We have now written a policy for future school closure scenarios. We will mothball our home learning drives once this is all over ready to be reactivated should the need arise.

As they say: “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail!” There is no reason for schools to be found wanting in the future.

Stay safe and Ciaobelissima! Have a cappachoochoo on me! (#trainguy reference)

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