What primary schools should do in a Coronavirus shut-down

A list of do’s and don’ts

Solomon Kingsnorth
Solomon Kingsnorth

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Skype is not the solution

If primary schools are to close down (which looks increasingly likely), the question of what to do will be weighing heavily on a lot of leaders’ minds.

I am very concerned about the amount of guff I have read online about deploying Skype and other such tools to carry on lessons ‘as normal’. While presumably well-intentioned, I think this would be a catastrophically bad idea.

Even if primary schools had 6 months to prepare how they were going to live-Skype their lessons, the overwhelming odds would still dictate that:

  • the tech would fall over on a regular basis
  • the attainment gap between rich and poor would widen
  • ‘attendance’ would be…variable
  • ‘behaviour for learning’ would, in a lot of cases, be non-existent
  • responsive teaching — literally the bedrock of learning — would be impossible

It is a terrible, terrible idea that will end in nothing but wasted time for every single person involved — from parents to teachers to pupils.

What should we do instead?

Statistics in educational research are spurious at best, but if there is one thing we have an absolutely rock-solid body of data on, it’s that a significant majority of the curriculum is never learned. Like a shiny new Ferrari pulverised in a scrap heap — most of the curriculum lies strewn in tatters at the end of each exam cycle, completely forgotten.

Why? Because we don’t devote enough time to getting it into long-term memory.

Mainly because we don’t have enough time.

Here’s my proposal for primary schools facing closure:

  1. Concentrate all your energies on reviewing the curriculum you have taught so far and setting up low-tech opportunities for retrieval practice.
  2. In the time that schools are closed, teachers should be given reading lists to develop subject knowledge and expertise — these could be blogs, research articles or books which the school will pay for with the money it saves during the shutdown. There will never be a better moment to give teachers extended reading time.

Despite the horrific circumstances, we’ve got a golden opportunity to freeze the conveyor-belt curriculum and allow pupils some time to absorb the learning that has already taken place.

***UPDATE***

In case you missed it, I’ve created a curriculum search engine for children to help them with retrieval projects. Unlike most research lessons, every result is both readable and relevant:

A Checklist

  • As soon as school closures look imminent, direct all PPA time to creating retrieval resources.
  • If you HAVE to make videos (and you really don’t) — make them about things you learned in the Autumn term. Don’t forget there are already a TONNE of curriculum-related videos on YouTube — and seeing material presented in a slightly different way to how it was first presented is good for learning.
  • Make the retrieval practice a mix of fluency, generation and evaluation. Don’t just focus on retrieving facts — take the opportunity to build on and synthesise previous learning.
  • If you start now, you could provide each child with a decent amount of zero-tech paper-based resources.
  • If you’re worried about printing, there are a number of easy-to-use (and Skype-free) tools online for retrieval — I’m writing this blog in a hurry but look out for a comprehensive list on my Twitter feed asap.

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