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Remote learning (primary): how much work to set and what you can expect
Setting work for pupils to do remotely is uncharted territory, so how do you know whether your expectations are 'right'? Find out what other primary schools are doing and why, to benchmark your approach and get the confidence to do more, or less, if you're thinking of making some changes.
- Keep these guiding principles in mind
- How much work are other primary schools setting?
- A full timetable of activities with a 'school-like' routine
- 6+ suggested activities per day, for different amounts of time depending on age
- 4 activities per day for all, and a weekly project: an aim, not an expectation
- 3 activities per day for all, but no pressure to finish them all at the same pace
- Optional activities and no timetables: just spend time together and read
- Poll results in full: breakdown by primary and secondary school respondents
Currently, the DfE expects all pupils to return to school in September. However, if you stay on top of remote learning you'll be well-prepared to help pupils learn at home if they need to self-isolate, and to continue education for all pupils in the event of localised school closures.
There's also still a possibility that blended learning will need to be in the mix for September (e.g. with teachers in fixed 'bubbles' delivering some lessons to pupils in other bubbles).
Keep these guiding principles in mind
The primary school leaders we've spoken to have learned and developed the following principles, so far, since moving to remote learning. Use these to guide you and your teachers when setting work for your pupils, too:
- Make it manageable: don’t overwhelm parents with lots of activities, just ask them to do what they can
- Remember: parents aren't teachers, so don't set the same activities you'd expect pupils to complete in school – in most cases they won't have the same level of adult support
- Adapt your usual timetable and curriculum, but keep some routines to help structure the day at home, and so that parents know what to expect. (E.g. suggesting that children do English and maths activities in the morning and creative activities in the afternoon)
- Set work that pupils can do independently, with materials they're likely to have at home: try to set some activities that aren’t dependent on technology, in case pupils don't have access to devices or the internet
- Don’t have strict expectations of what you’ll receive back: make it clear to parents that work and timetables are "suggested" and that pupils won't be in trouble if work isn't completed, or handed in on time
- Consider your school's context: if pupils are likely to be sharing devices with siblings, for example, a rigid timetable just won't work. If many of your parents are working from home, give pupils plenty to keep them busy and entertained without support from their parents
- Ask your community: are we getting this right? Survey parents and pupils to find out whether you're setting the right amount of work and whether the activities are doable at home, then adapt your approach based on the feedback you get
Ultimately, how much work you choose to set right now depends on your level of ambition for remote learning over the summer term. Read more about the spectrum of approaches to choose from in our article.
How much work are other primary schools setting?
We ran a poll in April, asking how much work school leaders were planning to set for their pupils in the summer term. 531 of your primary school colleagues voted, and here's what they told us:
2 to 3 learning activities per day seems to be the most popular choice for primary schools
- Setting 2 to 3 learning activities per day is the most popular choice for primaries – more than half (56%) of our primary school voters are doing this
- Some are setting more – 21% set 4 to 5 learning activities per day
- Some are setting less – 7% set 1 learning activity per day, and 6% set up to 4 across a week
- If you're not setting any work at all, you're not alone – 7% of our poll voters said their primary school has made this choice
- 6+ learning activities per day seems to be too much for the majority of primary schools – less than 1% of our poll respondents are doing this
You can see the full breakdown of results, including what's happening in secondary schools, in the last section of this article.
What do the different models look like?
Below, we look at different approaches to setting work from 5 primary schools and trusts, and why they're choosing to set the amount they are. Many of these approaches can also be used for setting work for individual pupils (who are learning from home) when when you re-open.
We cover the full spectrum of approaches represented in our poll findings – from those based on a full timetable, through to those with no expectations of pupils doing school work right now, where school leaders have decided that this is best for their context.
A full timetable of activities with a 'school-like' routine
Windsor Academy Trust has weekly timetables that broadly replicate full days of lessons in school. Older pupils are expected to log in to Google Classroom (part of G Suite for Education) each day and complete some activities there. To help achieve this, the trust bought Chromebooks and dongles for pupils who needed them.
How much work?
- Teachers set the same amount of work and have the same expectations as when pupils are in school
- For pupils in years 5 and 6, staff set assignments in Google Classroom. Pupils are expected to log in daily and complete these assignments during the timetabled 'lesson' times
- For these year groups, staff set differentiated assignments and provide feedback through Google Classroom, just like they would in school
- For younger pupils, from reception to year 4, staff set timetables and full days' worth of activities via Google Sites for each year group
The trust feels it's important that learning continues during this period, and that pupils stick to the routines they know to give them a sense of normality.
The approach in the primary schools is consistent with that in the trust's secondary schools. The trust explains to parents that it thinks it's important for pupils to have a 'school-like' routine at home because "having some structure each day will help your child’s physical health and wellbeing".
Take a look at some examples of the trust's timetables and activities for its primary school pupils and their families, here.
6+ suggested activities per day, for different amounts of time depending on age
Rosendale Primary School has suggested daily plans for pupils by stage – the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), Key Stage (KS) 1, and KS2. These don't specify time slots for each activity, like a typical timetable, but instead say how long to spend on them and how often to do them per day (e.g. 3 x 20-minute sessions of reading).
The school also advises parents to give their children some control over when they do things, to make plans easier to stick to.
Pupils are used to their days being mapped out, so staff felt it was important to give some structure
How much work?
- Every day, teachers give suggested activities for each of these subjects on the Seesaw app:
- Spelling practice
- Maths practice
- Creative time
- Language (for KS1 and KS2)
- They also explain these in a daily video message on their class blogs
- The school suggests that pupils in different stages spend different amounts of time on these activities – except for exercise, which follows recommended government guidelines of 1 hour per day for all pupils
- Activities are less complex than they might usually be in class – for example “today's maths practice is to learn the 2 times table off by heart"
- Pupils use their Seesaw account to upload photographs of their work or record audio or video clips for their teacher
- Pupils are used to their days being mapped out for them, so staff felt it was important to give some structure
- The school doesn't expect parents to teach new concepts – these activities are about practising and consolidating knowledge that teachers have already taught
- The activities allow communication between pupils and staff: "We thought it was very important for the emotional wellbeing of both pupils and staff that they got to communicate with each other on a daily basis," says headteacher Kate Atkins
You can view the school's weekly suggested 'timetable' and read more about its approach here.
4 activities per day for all, and a weekly project: an aim, not an expectation
Robin Hood Multi-Academy Trust has worked with other schools, STEM Learning and Warwickshire Schools Library Service to create weekly 'learning projects' for all year groups from the EYFS to year 6.
These resources are free for any school to use – you can access them all here. (Note the guidelines on how to use them under 'Learning projects for education'.)
How much work?
The resources set out daily tasks for pupils in the EYFS, KS1, years 3 and 4, and years 5 and 6, on a weekly topic/theme (e.g. 'under the sea'), for each of the following:
- Phonics for the EYFS and KS1, or spelling for years 3 to 6
The aim (not expectation) is that pupils complete 4 tasks per day – 1 from each category, plus:
- A weekly learning project: this is usually cross-curricular and covers the other foundation subjects, e.g. 'Create a weather chart and record the weather each day'. Teachers either set 1 week-long project or lots of smaller projects on the theme. Pupils aim to complete these throughout the week
There's no timetable as such. Parents can structure the day with maths, reading, phonics/spelling and writing in the morning, and the weekly learning project in the afternoon, if they wish.
Here's an example of 1 week of learning for KS1:
3 activities per day for all, but no pressure to finish them all at the same pace
Hitherfield Primary School provides pupils with activities via its home learning website each week, alongside links to other optional learning activities.
How much work?
Teachers set a daily activity for pupils in years 1 to 6 for each of reading, writing and maths.
Although teachers set 3 activities per day, pupils don't have to complete them in this way. A year 5 teacher says:
Don’t worry if you don’t finish them all in the week given – you can continue with an activity for as long as you need! Many of these are quick online games and quizzes, some are longer projects that you might want to work on over a few days... Try and have a go at as many different activities as you can.
For nursery and reception children, teachers produce a selection of activities each week on a topic such as 'living and growing', for parents to choose from (e.g. make your own binoculars, create a butterfly painting).
You can take a look at all these activities here.
Optional activities and no timetables: just spend time together and read
We don't want to put unnecessary pressure on families that are already having a difficult time
Parklands Primary School is setting a few literacy, maths and fun activities via the Seesaw app, but as 40% of its pupils have limited access to devices and the internet, these activities are completely optional.
There are also no expectations for how often teachers set activities.
How much work?
None. Instead, the school is encouraging pupils and families to spend time together and:
- Read every day
- Focus on looking after their physical health and mental wellbeing – spending as much time outside as possible, and enjoying the extra time that parents have with their children
- Find the learning opportunities in everyday activities, e.g. maths and reading when cooking from a recipe, science when gardening, writing postcards to friends, learning through play
Staff also send parents suggested non-screen learning activities to do at home or while out on daily exercise walks.
- The school is in an area of high deprivation and many parents are struggling to make ends meet. Its focus at the moment is on pupil welfare and families having enough to eat, rather than how much work pupils are doing
- Additionally, "At a school like mine, there may only be 1 electronic device between 4 children, so a strict timetable that's all screen-based just isn't going to work," says headteacher Chris Dyson
- The school doesn't want to put unnecessary pressure on families that are already having a difficult time
Poll results in full: breakdown by primary and secondary school respondents
In April 2020, we polled members of The Key who subscribed to our COVID-19 emails, asking "How much work are you planning to set after Easter for pupils who are learning remotely?". Of the 892 school leaders who responded, 531 were from primary schools and 292 were from secondary schools. The graph below shows the findings from respondents in primary and secondary schools alone. For the full results across all types of school, see here. This is not a representative or weighted survey.
How much work are you planning to set after Easter for pupils who are learning remotely?
Many thanks to:
- Chris Dyson, headteacher at Parklands Primary School
- Dawn Haywood, deputy CEO, and the team at Windsor Academy Trust
- Haroon Asghar, principal at The Olive Tree Primary School
- Hitherfield Primary School
- Joseph Hellett, headteacher at Sacred Heart Catholic Primary School
- Kate Atkins, headteacher at Rosendale Primary School
- Neil Bolton, deputy headteacher at Hanbury Primary School
- Robin Hood Multi-Academy Trust
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