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Fear of leaving poorest behind went against virtual lessons

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VIRTUAL school lessons throughout the day during lockdown were ruled out by Guernsey’s Education bosses because of concerns that the poorest children would fall furthest behind.

(Picture by Adrian Miller, 28520718)

Instead Education, Sport & Culture decided that teachers would set assignments, questions, quizzes and tasks and allow pupils to do it at a time that was best for them and their parents.

Teachers still held some virtual classrooms, or live lessons, particularly in the primary sector, but not to the same extent as the three independent colleges.

Details behind the reasoning for the approach were revealed at a public hearing organised by the Scrutiny Management Committee to examine whether there were things that could be learned in preparation for a possible second wave of the Covid-19 virus.

The three independent colleges took the full-scale virtual lessons route on Zoom and Microsoft Teams, but the president of ESC, Matt Fallaize, said it decided it would not be appropriate for the state sector because the committee did not want to exacerbate an attainment gap between pupils from wealthy homes and those from low-income backgrounds.

‘It would have been feasible to do more virtual lessons, for example the College of Further Education and primary schools did many, but one of our concerns was the inequality gap, because virtual lessons would have worked well for some pupils but not all of them.’

Deputy Fallaize paid tribute to the teachers who rose to the challenge and adapted rapidly to distance learning with meaningful lessons under exceptional circumstances.

Some pupils were called every day during the school week and there were even some ‘eyes-on visits’, where teachers could meet children while social distancing in an outdoor space.

Schools remained open during the whole period of lockdown for pupils who had been classed as ‘vulnerable’ and the children of key workers, such as nurses.

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Deputy Fallaize said the issue of inequality was a States-wide problem, and there was a lack of robust data about how it impacted educational outcomes, health outcomes and employment problems.

ESC relies mainly on the data from the uniform allowance programme and some parents can self-declare if they are claiming benefits.

In the meantime, Deputy Fallaize explained that they would rely on the knowledge of teachers to identify whether the attainment gap on socio-economic grounds had been compounded and if that was the case he said they would not hesitate to make funds available.

Consideration was given to shortening the schools’ summer holiday, but it was felt this would have been unfair considering the ‘tremendous efforts’ of teachers.

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Scrutiny Management member Deputy Jennifer Merrett questioned whether a greater number of virtual lessons would have been beneficial because social interaction is important for young people – and she put it to ESC that students could have recorded the lessons.

Deputy Fallaize agreed it was ‘worth exploring’, but stuck to his view that relying on digital access creates inequalities, and they preferred a ‘quality distance learning package that could be picked up throughout the day’.

If lockdown had been an exam, most parents thought that ESC had passed it.

At several points during the public hearing a survey of more than 2,000 parents was referred to.

It showed that nearly 90% thought the work set was of about the right standard and more than 90% said the instructions for learning were very good or acceptable.

Helen Bowditch

By Helen Bowditch
News reporter

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