Lockdown home-schooling: A survival guide

Katharine Wooller

Jan 10, 2021


This week saw the start of the third UK lockdown, and the closure of all schools — at 12 hours’ notice! Along with around 8 million families in the UK who have dependent children, I have spent this week trying to combine home schooling with a demanding full-time job. There is little doubt we are in some very challenging economic times, and therefore this is clearly a leviathan problem both for businesses and for parents.

I am privileged to lead an online group called Women Who Crypto, where we spend a fair amount of time discussing the best way to combine family life, a career, and financial health. There are many answers of course, and there is no “one size fits all”. This week’s blog is dedicated to those who are trying to maintain a career as if they don’t children and trying to parent as if they don’t have a career.

Of course, we have already had a “dry run” over the Spring/Summer last year, where many schools were shut for around 6 months. The Office for National Statics surveyed over two thousand households to get feedback on their experience of homeschooling during a pandemic, with some sobering stats.

Only half of the parents who were homeschooling (49%) agreed that they were confident in their abilities to home-school their children. Nearly a third (30%) of parents agreed that it was negatively affecting their job. For parents who were home-schooling, over one in four (28%) agreed that it was negatively affecting their well-being; interestingly this figure was higher in women. It doesn’t seem much fun for the children either — over half (52%) of parents with dependent children of school age said a child in their household was struggling to continue their education while at home.

Interestingly, on average, children completed 13 hours of learning using school-provided resources over the school week. Let us assume that a primary school-aged child is awake, over 5 days, for around 60 hours, there is clearly a massive gap in both childcare and supervising schooling, particularly for younger children. I also want to highlight that there are 2.9 million lone parent family units in the UK, around 15% of all families, who are often bearing the burden of parenting alone.

In my experience, there are some things that make the process a bit smoother. Firstly, at home — as with any disaster recovery — have a plan! I am very blessed to have a supportive partner, and only one child (a well behaved and very relaxed 7-year-old), who attends a very good and technologically competent school. Many of my parent friends have 3 or 4 children, which massively magnifies the logical problems. I have some dual working couple friends who split the day into shifts of 7am — 2pm / 2pm — 9pm so they can tag-team the parenting and working. Certainly, be realistic — delegate amongst children and adults who does what, and when, to manage expectations to stop tempers fraying. If you can, try to have separate areas for work and play; I make a habit of putting away all the school stuff at 4pm, to demarcate that I am no longer the Head Mistress of a home school of excellence (ahem), and now back to being “just” a parent. ‘

On the work front, clearly, there are challenges. Be realistic about what you can get done during the day — 8 hours of back to back calls with no breaks planned as a contingency, will do little than raise your stress levels. If you need to push some tasks back to the evening when things are quieter, it’s probably advisable. If you are working with those who have children at home, do check in on them, they are probably struggling! Send sympathy, or, even better, wine. On both sides, I think we can agree that standards have changed during lockdown; pre COVID you would be mortified to have a child interrupt a work call, now it’s par for the course! I also think children can appreciate from a young age, that a career is important — I’ve been quite blunt that it keeps a roof over our heads. I also try and involve my son in conversations about my work, and he even helped stuff our work Christmas cards into envelopes in exchange for payment in chocolate.

In conclusion, you’d consider anyone attempting to be simultaneously English teacher, Maths teacher, Science teacher, exam invigilator, chief marker, Head of Key Stage 1, Forest School Leader, after school activities organiser, Maintenance Man, Dinner Lady, Health & Safety officer, Union rep and emotional counsellor, bold at best! For those who are home-schooling whilst working — I salute you. For those that are working with teammates who are home-schooling, I appreciate your kindness and understanding. As with everything Covid related, if we pull together, we shall triumph.

My apologies for publishing this blog late — you can probably guess the source of this week’s tardiness! On the plus side, the business has had a record week, a great result given the background chaos of COVID.