Schools urged to provide live lessons via video calls during lockdown
Some private schools are conducting four hours of classes a day
12 May, 2020 — By Richard Osley
Labour councillor Anna Wright
CAMDEN’S secondaries should try and match private schools by providing full online lessons during the coronavirus lockdown with the use of video call technology, a cross-party committee heard last night (Monday).
Anna Wright, a backbench Labour councillor, said state schools in other areas were already providing online classes where teachers effectively take lessons directly for pupils over the internet and have ‘live contact’ with the children.
She warned that, although she was aware of Camden’s ‘digital divide’ between families who had access to computers and the internet and those who do not, “a lot of parents are beginning to raise in the community the prospect of organised classes through remote learning.”
The issue was raised at the first meeting of the Town Hall’s new cross-party Covid-19 Oversight Committee, which is examining Camden’s response to the coronavirus crisis and was itself using video technology so that councillors could take part from the safety of their homes.
Some fee-paying schools are teaching four hours of lessons in this way, but state secondaries in Camden are largely relying on pupils downloading material to learn from, the meeting heard.
Cllr Wright said she thought the divide on device ownership was greater at primary school level, adding: “Many secondary school children also don’t have access to a laptop or electrical device at home, but more of them do have a phone – and it’s possible to use phones even for remote classes and live contact.”
“I do get the impression, in fact I know, that other local authorities are rolling out remote learning where Camden’s schools are not. I’m also very aware that the private sector is providing four hours a day of classes for all of their pupils. Our schools face very different challenges but nevertheless, are we being ambitious enough? Are we doing enough to try and provide more than just material being uploaded on Google classroom, which is what is happening for my children?”
Schools in Camden have been credited with providing a wealth of online learning resources and staying open for the children of key workers responding to pandemic and those who are possibly vulnerable at home, but there are concerns about exactly when older children will be able to return to a full schedule of lessons ahead of their exam years and a fear they will fall behind their peers who do have more contact with teachers.
Tory group leader Councillor Oliver Cooper said he would like the council to encourage schools to move towards the remote working lessons via a screen, “even if it’s advisory”.
As the overarching body managing the schools, Camden could “help make sure that every school doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel in developing their remote learning offer” and develop a boroughwide strategy for its implementation, he told the meeting.
As the debate continued online, writer and entrepreneur Julia Hobsbawm said: “I think I speak for many parents of pupils in Camden’s secondary schools facing the prospect of no return before September, that we urgently need a published plan on virtual class teaching either by Zoom or by Teams/Office365. Currently there is completely inadequate provision.”
While some younger children may be back at their primary schools by next month, there is a longer wait expected for secondary schools. Teachers and governors have already warned that they do not want to see a rush back, unless the school day can be arranged safely.
Martin Pratt, the council’s deputy chief executive told the meeting: “It is right that we have to consider every sort of learning intervention in order to support students at home, particularly as this [the coronavirus crisis] progresses. So, I think we are not, as a policy, ruling anything out.”
But he added: “I do want to make it clear that actually the decisions here do not rest with the local authorities. They do rest with the schools. We support, provide guidance, we encourage and we challenge, but every single state school in Camden is adjudged to be either ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ and we trust our schools’ leaders to make good decisions in terms of meeting the learning objectives for children.”
Mr Pratt said discussions were ongoing, however.
“We anticipate that we will see an increase in direct, organised learning online and we are doing all that we can to encourage that,” he told councillors.
On the issue of the ‘digital divide’, Mr Pratt said Camden was continuing to appeal to businesses to donate unused laptops and tablets, and that some had already come forward to help. The meeting was told that the council was waiting to receive a shipment of 1,073 laptops coming from the Department for Education.
“That’s not sufficient,” Mr Pratt said. “We have over 3,000 children who are in this situation. We have done this quite carefully, going school by school. The schools know their children, and they know their families. I’m pleased to say some local businesses have come forward and we are continuing with the campaign and hope to see even more support. It’s worth noting that the digital divide is a real, tangible expression of that level of inequality that we knew existed but has been thrown into sharp relief by the coronavirus emergency and also amplified it.”