What primary schools should do in a Coronavirus shut-down

A list of do’s and don’ts

Solomon Kingsnorth
Solomon Kingsnorth


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.


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.