What we did
We asked ten families in the Birmingham area about their experiences of home schooling. Schools were closed in the UK, due to the pandemic, except for children of essential workers or those children deemed vulnerable. We specifically asked families about the availability of laptops, computers, tablets, and access to the internet.
How we did it
Fully consenting adults responded to a request to take part in this study. Recruitment was by word of mouth and a poster campaign. We used semi-structured telephone interviews to collect this primary data.
What we found
i) Difficulties accessing devices and internet
Families felt the schools were underprepared in the first lockdown. Lack of access to devices and difficulties accessing the internet caused stress to carers and children, this was related to the number of children being online at the same time. Slow internet access and the cost involved in upgrading internet connections caused financial worry for some families. Others were using mobile telephones to make up for this, but this added to their financial burden. Help was offered to families, which they learned about through social media, texts, and emails. Despite offers the availability of laptops was restricted and their distribution was slow. These digital equipment loans caused additional concern as families were worried about contracts as they had to sign to say they would pay for any damage or replace the laptop if damaged.
ii) Challenges of technology and remote learning, preference for off-line working.
Parents felt that a basic technical knowledge of computing was assumed by those setting up home schooling, but not all families had the necessary equipment or skills required to enable their children to learn from home. Parents were not trained teachers and their children struggled with online learning, so work was not always completed. E-learning did not suit every child, especially children with learning disabilities who struggled to understand why they were doing schoolwork at home and in online lessons where children were talking at the same time making it difficult for them to take part. Parents felt that home schooling would have been more successful if they had been offered paper packs to work from. For younger children this was appreciated but was not without difficulties as some parents were unable to collect the work and others could not afford the printing costs. The support offered to parents varied, with most saying the support they received from the schools was appreciated and others feeling abandoned.
iii) Impact of home schooling on family relationships and mental health.
We have placed these findings into eight sub sections to emphasise issues of concern to parents. a) Home schooling tested the relationships between parents/guardians and children. Overnight parents became qualified teachers, in addition to the responsibilities associated with being a carer; over time this led to a build-up of stress. Sometimes school lessons were missed because children struggled to adapt to the boundary change between home and school, with the perception that school was the place to learn not home, and some children preferring to be in school. b) After-school activities ceased during each lockdown, these had been seen as a vital resource for parents and a chance for children to be with their friends. c) Lack of social contact with friends and family was a struggle. d) For those who received it, social support from school was appreciated by parents.
e) During lockdown, families were together 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, challenging their mental health and wellbeing. Although lockdown offered a time for families to spend time together, there was a need for personal space, and this was in short supply within the home. f) Those with a garden, or who had access to a nearby park, were able to take advantage of the space. Parks and open spaces offered a sense of familiarity, but the behaviour of some parents had changed, in keeping a ‘safe’ distance from others they were reluctant for their children to play with other children.
g) A few children found lockdown offered a place of safety from the social world but made it harder for them to return to school routines and being part of society again. There were new protocols in schools for children going into school and leaving times were staggered. Parents with children at different schools had to cope with these competing demands on their time; they could not be in two places at once. h) Parents talked about the need for mental health support for their children, especially for those with health problems, and the difficulties that this may be building up in the future.