Lock down for teenagers

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Dr Fay Lewis Programme Leader for the MA Education at UWE explores ways in which older teenagers can maintain a sense of purpose during lock down.

With work being set by schools and an impressive (if overwhelming) array of online facilities, families may be finding that there is more than enough to keep young children busy.  However, it may be a different story for older teens.  Those, in particular, in Year 11 or 13 have had to deal with a rather sudden and dramatic change in life with a shift in focus from the big exam push to, well, nothing! 

The following is by no means a list of how to parent your teen (who would be daft enough to think that they have got that sussed out!) or a list of resources.  Rather, it is some collective thoughts from parents of those who find themselves in this rather strange hinterland, attempting to help our young people maintain a feeling of purpose during lockdown. 

Do future you a favour

Focus on what you plan to move onto next.  What is it that you can be working towards that may give you a head start or make life easier when you move onto the next stage?  As well as the Oak National Academy and BBC resources for teaching or learning, for those moving onto academic studies learning to touch type or how to use programming skills such as Python, or statistical packages may be skills that you are thankful for in the future.  Unifrog and Futurelearn are just two examples of where a wide range of courses can be found, with companies such as JSTOR making their materials free online too. Vocational skills are also important.  Whilst it may not be possible to undertake practical activities think about complimentary skills such as basic maths that you may need or using packages such as photoshop or excel.  Read blogs or watch you tube videos in related areas as much as possible to give yourself a head start.

General life skills

Again, this is about doing future you a favour.  What skills are you going to be thankful that you have developed in a few years’ time?  Now may be a good time to start to brush up on the theory element of the driving test, learn how to change the oil, a wheel or even just top up the water in a car. If you have a bike, learn how to service and maintain this.  Perhaps you could practice making some basic meals?  Jamie Oliver on Channel 4 has some great ideas for getting inventive with what is left in the cupboard!  More confident cooks could ask for the family food budget for the week, write a meal list and shop for this.  If there are some tins of paint available learn how to paint and decorate your room, learn how to put up a shelf or a picture etc.  For those with the travel bug consider brushing up on language skills, plan a future trip abroad or explore types of temporary or volunteer work available overseas for when life starts to return to normal.  Think about how you want to live and what will help you to get there.

Be useful

Helping others is a great way to feel good!  Keep an eye out for local volunteer groups.  If it safe to do so you may want to spend some time helping out by doing food shopping or collecting medicines etc for those in isolation.  If your circumstances won’t allow this try setting up a regular email or facetime exchange with someone who is in isolation on their own.  Connections with younger children are great.  Perhaps you could video call younger relatives, children of friends or children that you babysit for and offer to read them a story, play a game or even listen to younger children reading to you.  You could help them to brush up on their football skills or offer help with school work.  More widely, you could research charities that need support, this doesn’t just have to be financial support, raising awareness can be vital to these groups too.

Stay active

Even the least sporty teen is used to a certain level of activity whilst at school or college and it is easy when out of normal routine to slip into a sedentary lifestyle.  Find what works for you whether it be Bollywood dancing, martial arts or couch to 5K.  The Joe Wicks PE sessions are designed for younger children but can be great fun for people of all ages.  Other celebrities such as Oti Mabuse and Davina McCall are both making materials available online.  Professional and amateur sports clubs have all been working hard publishing training suggestions and resources.  It may be that you find something in particular that you enjoy or that you try out a variety of new activities and develop a new hobby.

Stay connected

The things that us parents have moaned about for years really to come into their own at them moment.  Teens are great at connecting with friends via a number of platforms but remember that virtual face to face catch ups are just as important as sending messages.  You may have family members who are living in lonely conditions at the moment who would very much appreciate short, regular catch ups.

Do something you love

What is it you really enjoy?  Whether your passion lies in drawing, football, robotics it is important to maintain your interests and spend time doing something that you find really interesting, becoming absorbed in something that fascinates you on your own or through an online course can be very relaxing.  If music is your thing Whatsonlive.co.uk have a list of some free and some chargeable concerts or you could try dipping your toes into a new genre each week.  Many zoos such as Edinburgh and Dublin have set up online zoo tours if you love animals.  For readers, Amazon have increased their range of free books, e.g. through Audible.  Anyone who loves the theatre should take a look at Patrick Stewart reading #ASonnetADay on his Facebook Page.  The National Theatre showing various West End productions, the Royal Opera House, Royal Shakespeare Company have also made many performances available for free online.  Think about what it is that you love and how you can explore it in new ways. A simple google search of the name of your hobby pus the words ‘at home’ can unearth a treasure trove of ideas and activities

But be safe…

Online safety will be of particular importance currently.  Vodafone digital parenting, Thinkuknow, The Safer Internet Centre and Digizen are all great examples of websites providing information for educators, parents, carers, and young people about online safety.  More widely, whilst structure is good, imposing a schedule may only breed resentment, instead let your young person take charge of this for themselves.  If they can do a few aspects from some of the above themes it may help them to avoid drifting the days away in a haze of Snapchat/Instagram/XBOX  etc.  We can only hope!

Keep Calm and Carry on Learning – Part 6

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Need a new book?

In the sixth in a series of blog posts, Dr Verity Jones, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Education and Childhood at UWE, and Online Project Lead looks at a new storybook for key stage 2 pupils and how we can use it to excite and engage home learners.

Six weeks in …

… and there’s growing concern for children’s progress in reading becoming more apparent as home schoolers struggle not only to get time to sit and do reading, but also access new material children want to read. With school and local authority libraries closed, many families are having to put up with what’s on their own shelves. Some communities are organising street book swaps, or joining the local librarian for an online storytime, or a socially distanced friend or family member may be doing  a Zoom bedtime reading session.  All of these are great ways to inspire and enable reading moments. But are there any other books and how can we use them to engage children at home?

In April I was delighted to be part of the team from UWE, Bristol who received the Geographical Association’s silver publishing award for our book: DRY, the story of a water superhero. If you are in need of a new book for your collection, then this might be something you can enjoy at home –  we have got a free electronic version (in English and Welsh) you can access here: English Welsh.

This book is based on the conversations and findings of research in five river catchments across the UK drawing on experiences and memories of drought and water scarcity. We took some of these findings and wove them into a story about a girl in year 6 who needs to do a school project that sees the ups and downs of engaging in community action. This may have resonance with many young people who have been active in the climate strike protests.

The judges from the Geographical Association commented that the book found the perfect balance between powerful personal story line, excellent art work and delivering a range of geographical facts. They felt it would engage and empower our key stage 2 audience. If your young folk only want to look at the pictures then there is plenty to look at in Lucy-Gorrel Barnes beautiful and thought provoking illustrations.

In addition to the book, there are free teaching notes available here.

These notes are filled with challenging and engaging activities that include developing the concepts of ‘water footprints’ and ‘UK droughts’. They are designed to deepen children’s thinking and facilitate questioning, discussion and debate.

Join a free ‘Dry’ webinar on Thursday 21 May

While we would be delighted if you were to dip into these free resources, we would also like to invite you to a free webinar.

On 21st  May we are holding two, 45 minute sessions; one for parents / home educators (10:00-10.45 GMT) and one for teachers (11:00 – 11:45 GMT). During these sessions we will take you through how you might use the book at home and in school and offer some ideas about the kind of activities which we know engage and enable children to become creative, critical thinkers.

If you would like to take part in this free webinar please email : dry@uwe.ac.uk

We hope you enjoy this book and it offers a new reading moment for your children during lockdown.

Dr Verity Jones is Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of the West of England, Bristol. Online Learning Project Lead and Acting Associate Head of Department for Learning, Teaching and Student Experience.

Learning at home – what has previous educational research said?

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The closure of schools as a result of Covid 19 has led to many parents and carers having to take a greater role in their children’s education. Dr Jane Andrews, Associate Professor (Education) at UWE discusses a selection of published research articles which explore different aspects of learning at home for children in early years and primary education.

The arrival of Covid 19 has meant that home schooling or learning at home has been much discussed and there has been a sharing of ideas and experiences on social media and in news stories.  The stories have ranged from the serious, such as a consideration of the impact on children’s learning given different levels of parental time and access to resources, to the light-hearted, such as observations from parents or carers announcing “we’re having an INSET day today”. It is interesting to note that in his message to the French people about a partial return to normal living from 11th May, the French President, Emmanuel Macron, stated that the opening of nurseries and schools would be a priority. His rationale is a concern for children who do not have access to digital resources to continue their education at home who will be falling behind in their learning. The focus in France on children and their education at this time could lead us to pose questions such as:

  • what can parents or carers do to support their children’s learning at home?
  • what knowledge and resources are needed?
  • is learning with parents or carers the same or different from learning with peers and teachers?

No doubt there are many other questions besides these. However, long before this period of schools’ partial closure and children being given activities to do online or worksheets to complete at home, educational researchers have been exploring the roles of parents or carers in their children’s learning.

The purpose of this blog post is to provide a brief review and discussion of a selection of published research articles which address different dimensions of learning at home. The articles all refer to children in early years and primary education.

The full details of each article are given at the end of the blog post. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on these articles in the comments section below this blog post and please share any articles or blog posts which have caught your attention at this time. You might wish to share your thoughts or research which looks at secondary age pupils and their learning out of school.

Learning with teachers or learning with parents and carers – same or different?  

In an article from 1998 Greenhough and Hughes reported on how parents or carers and teachers approached the task of listening to young children read (the children were aged between 5 and 7). Distinctive differences were noted between parents’ or carers’ and teachers’ ways of engaging with children as they read.  The researchers were careful not to judge which strategies were more effective but, rather, they teased out patterns of interaction evident in the transcripts of teachers and parents or carers talking to their children during reading. These patterns were possibly surprising. Parents or carers tended to focus their talk on helping children with decoding the words in the text. Teachers, on the other hand, used more “conversing”, a term used by the researchers to describe talking about the text as a whole, including linking the text with children’s own experiences. These different strategies might go against what we might expect. Wouldn’t we expect decoding and “getting it right” to be what’s done at school? Might we not imagine linking reading with shared life experiences to be more naturally done in the home environment?    

What might this research mean? The researchers suggest that it may be useful for children’s development as readers if parents or carers are supported in trying out a wider range of strategies when listening to their children read. The implication is that parents or carers would be better off not seeing themselves as “being the teacher” when listening to their child read. Instead, there are roles they can play which will be of benefit for children’s reading which also fit better with their relationship with their child. Chatting about texts and linking to shared experiences (e.g. talking about pictures and asking children about them) should not be undervalued or neglected when we are considering how to develop positive skills and dispositions in reading.

One-way traffic from school to home?

The next article I want to reflect on is by Jackie Marsh from 2003 and it explores the literacy practices (e.g. reading, imaginative play, mark making) of 3 and 4 year old children at home and compares whether these literacy practices overlap with the kinds of literacy activities and texts used at school. The first part of the article discusses a rich range of activities and engagement with text at home (as reported by parents) which all tended to revolve around popular culture and media texts e.g. play stimulated by TV programmes or characters from films such as Toy Story 2. Marsh’s discussion then moves onto considering the kinds of literacy activities these same children experienced when at nursery. The key difference appeared to be that the nursery was stocked with picture books which are described as “a canon of well-loved texts” but there were no popular culture books such as books based on Disney films or TV tie-in books. Does this difference matter? Jackie Marsh believes that it does and she suggests that children’s literacy experiences could be further supported if the texts they are familiar with and love at home could be acknowledged and included in their learning at nursery. The line of argument is that all literacy practices are valuable and should be shared across the settings of home and nursery. Conversely there is a message that educators should resist following a “one-way traffic” model of sending nursery books home without asking about or encouraging children to share what they engage with spontaneously in their homes.

The home as a learning environment

The final paper which I have been reflecting on recently comes from Iram Siraj-Blatchford who is known for her large scale, longitudinal studies into learning in the early years in homes and in early years settings and schools. The specific article I find fascinating was published in 2010 and explores the impact of children’s “home learning environment” on their later school achievement. This is a complex study but some key messages shine through regarding which activities are seen to be most beneficial for children and parents or carers to engage with at home.  The beneficial activities are (helpfully) simple ones and are as follows:

  • frequent story reading
  • trips to the library
  • playing with numbers
  • painting and drawing
  • being taught letters and numbers
  • singing songs
  • learning and reciting poems and rhymes

What can we conclude?

It is interesting to note that each of these 3 articles highlights how activities engaged with at home are very valuable for children’s learning in their own right. There is a value of a style of learning at home which is not just a mirror image of (teaching and) learning at school. Clearly we are in different times at the moment with enforced closure of schools and nurseries for many children, with parents and carers finding themselves leading or guiding learning at home and structuring the daily activities.

My concluding thought is that parents and carers should not necessarily feel they have to forget how they usually engage with their children and turn home life into a form of school. There will be continuing benefits for parents and carers to engage with their children in informal activities which they all want to give time to!


Greenhough, P. & Hughes, M. (1998) Parents’ and Teachers’ Interventions in Children’s Reading in British Educational Research Journal, 24/4, 383-398

Marsh, J. (2003) One-way Traffic? Connections between Literacy Practices at Home and in the Nursery in British Educational Research Journal, 29/3, 369-382

Siraj-Blatchford, I. (2010) Learning in the home and at school: how working class children ‘succeed against the odds’ in British Educational Research Journal, 36/3, 463-482

Photograph by Annie Spratt at Unsplash

Keep calm and carry on learning – Part 5

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Planning for the post virus world…

In the fifth in a series of blog posts, Dr Verity Jones, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Education and Childhood at UWE, and Online Project Lead looks at how we need to think about preparing children for the post virus world and what skills we might need to brush up on.

Five weeks in …

 … and rain predicted. So far during lockdown in the UK we have been lucky enough to have had almost wall to wall sunshine. This has meant we can get our young folk outside – whether in the garden, park or street.  Chalk drawings now litter pavements and less congested roads are awash with children on bikes and scooters enjoying the cleaner air. It’s been reported that traffic has returned to levels reminiscent of the 1950s. However, as society becomes more mobile these will undoubtedly increase and with them the possibility of traffic incident.

Taking my daily exercise, glancing out of my window or making my way to the shops I have been delighted to see people reclaiming the streets. But over the last week  I have also witnessed an increase in children becoming complacent with what were normal safety procedures when crossing the road. The ‘stop, look, listen, think’ drill is being lost. In the post virus world, we all hope to return to sooner rather than later, this shift could see disastrous consequences. So, it is to this type of preparation for the future I want to focus on this week.

While in lockdown it is essential that we don’t forget to practice road safety skills. Think! have been delivering road safety campaigns for the last 20 years and offer a wealth of experience. For resources to use with children check here.  

With many children in Year 6  usually attending cycle training in the summer term, consider booking the Bikeability course they would have missed

 Sustrans is the largest sustainable transport charity in the UK and custodians of the National Cycle Network. You may well be using these routes while in lockdown, so why not check out the work they do to make Safer Routes to School . It might be something your school could get involved with post lockdown.

There are also all those other life skills – from how to make an emergency phone call and simple first aid, to keeping safe near water and being able to spot dangers in and out of the home. Again, these issues are often covered in school during the summer term, perhaps even with a visit to a Life Skills Centre where children get to explore different scenarios. While this hands-on, interactive approach isn’t possible at the moment, discussing these issues is. Helpful information to use with children can be found here.

While we need to keep safe from Covid19 now with social distancing and strict hand washing practices, we also need to prepare our children to be safe when this is all over.

Dr Verity Jones is Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of the West of England, Bristol. Online Learning Project Lead and Acting Associate Head of Department for Learning, Teaching and Student Experience.

“Labour need to commit to a comprehensive review of private education.”

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The problem of unfairness in the education system is now unavoidable. Labour must initiate a comprehensive review of the role of fee paying private schools. 

This should include the creation of an Office for private schools’ accountability, to monitor their public benefit and loss to the public.

In terms of a review, taxation must be a priority. Fee-paying private schools currently exploit a loophole exempting them from VAT on school fees. There is an oddity here: these schools are effectively run as private businesses, but enjoy special privileges from the state that other businesses do not.

The pendulum would shift with the introduction of VAT on school fees, and it would be state schools that benefit . With VAT at 20 per cent, there is an anticipated minimum of £1.75 billion that would be collected, a sum more than four per cent of the schools’ budget. This income would negate the cost of absorbing around five per cent more children in state schools.

The introduction of VAT has to be understood in the context of private schools paying just £44 million in business rates and corporation tax combined (2017), which is a massive “loophole” given their income of £7.83 billion.

Furthermore, the private schools’ lobby claim that private schools save taxpayers money; create a net wealth for the country’s economy; and that the cost of integrating private schools into the state set-up would practically and financially prohibitive. Unfortunately, it seems that a certain untruthfulness is often at play. Take for example an eye-catching front page headline in The Times: ‘Fee-paying schools ‘save the taxpayer £20 billion’. This is claim was dismissed by Full Fact, who show the calculation is miscalculated and/or designed to mislead.

In addition to VAT exemption, as charities, many private schools are exempt from corporation tax and almost all local taxes on property, but there is little stipulation beyond the general requirement: for free or subsidised access/places; developing links with grant making trusts so as to provide free services; lending equipment staff or facilities; and allowing state school pupils to attend certain lessons or events.

“There needs to be much more accurate and transparent reporting about private schools’ cost and benefit to the public”

However, are these generous general requirements enough to satisfactory their public benefit requirement, as charities?

There needs to be much more accurate and transparent reporting about private schools’ financial and social cost and benefit to the public, especially accruement from imposing VAT and removing charitable status.

This would be the objective of a comprehensive review, which could be undertaken by a Social Justice Commission (SJC) – tasked with advising Labour on integrating private schools, either fully or partially, into a National Education Service.

These changes would be long-term. The education system in the UK is complex because it is significantly stratified and differentiated. It is stratified because there are fee-paying selective private schools that are generally exclusive, and then there are the second stratum of schools that consist of state selective and comprehensive schools.

Importantly, within each of these two, there is significant differentiation among the schools. For fee-paying private schools, hierarchy can be discerned by fees, which range from £12k-£17,800 (the latter being the average ISC schools fee) up to £42,501 (Eton).

“Taxes could be introduced progressively in bands”

Taxes could be introduced progressively in bands to account for differentiation. Progressive taxation could also be introduced to break the feeder system of schools that entrench privilege through the pre-prep and prep schools’ network.

These schools are a pipeline to elite universities. To break this cycle of unfairness, progressive taxation could be extended to higher education in the form of university contextual admissions through levying a progressive admissions quota on universities.

One option here could be that the lowest ranked Russell group universities could admit a maximum of seven per cent of privately educated pupils to represent the same proportion of private school students as in the wider secondary school population, and the higher ranked to be able to progressively admit a lesser percentage.

Similarly, regulation and incentives around employing teachers could be introduced. For instance, consideration could be given to progressively incentivising private schools to employ state-educated teachers, the corollary would be to incentivise the privately-educated to teach in state school.

Such measures will likely mean that some private schools would game the system to pay lower taxation, some may even become fully state maintained, and a small minority would increase their fees to stay competitive in the exclusivity stakes. In the absence of an outright abolishing, these measures would rebalance the education system.

“The introduction of VAT ought to be the embryo for bigger changes”

The proposal of a National Education Service (NES) has an important prefix – “towards”, and the introduction of VAT to private schools fees ought to be the embryo for bigger changes to address unfairness.

In conclusion, a comprehensive review is needed for strategic short- and longer- term planning to create more egalitarianism in and through the education system. The review agenda could include, among others:

  1. creating a robust, accurate, and transparent reporting framework for private schools’ financial and social cost and benefit to the public, especially accrued from imposing VAT and removing Charitable status.
  2. exploring the feasibility of progressive taxes, regulation, and incentives to break entrenchment of elitism and privilege.
  3. creation of an Office for private schools’ accountability to monitor their public benefit and loss to the public.

Ultimately though, it must countenanced that a reformist ‘softly softly’ approach will not do, and a more strident revolutionary approach is needed to shake-off the shackles that private schools puts on life chances of working class pupils, females, BAME, and other minorities – ultimately, undermining equality.

Dr Alpesh Maisuria is associate professor of education policy in critical education at the University of the West of England. He writes widely about issues of social class, educational policy, neoliberalism and Marxism, as well the proposal of a nationalised education service; academy and free schools; private schools; Swedish social democracy and class.

Republished with kind permission from the independent think tank Private School Policy Reform

Keep calm and carry on learning – Part 4

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Talking about values and developing heroes while at home.

In the fourth in a series of blog posts, Dr Verity Jones, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Education and Childhood at UWE, and Online Project Lead looks at how the Covid19 pandemic has provided opportunities to talk to young people about the kind of people they are and want to be.

Four weeks in …

The Easter holidays are now over and we are back at home school. The news is still  awash with ever increasing numbers of people suffering from the effects of the covid19 virus. However, amongst these horrors lie the good news stories – communities coming together to make a positive difference. Whether you’re nearly one hundred years old and you’re walking round your garden to raise money for the NHS, shopping for a vulnerable person or making PPE in your backroom; there have been thousands of stories of kindness that inspire the nation to carry on. So, now might be just the time to talk to our young learners about what it is to be a hero.

Children may well feel helpless in the current conditions and feel the possibility of being a hero too far removed from their everyday experience. Being a hero is not an easy journey where the road to heroism is simple, neat and easy without any problems or challenges. Being a hero does not necessarily mean grand acts, saving lives or raising oodles of money. Being a hero can start at home.

Last week I was delighted to receive the Geographical Associations Silver Award for the book I co-authored called DRY: The Diary of a Water Superhero. A free online copy of this picture book can be accessed here with associated teaching materials here.

This story tracks the life of a child in Year 6 and how she, bit by bit, works towards making a difference in her local community. The focus of her project is water usage; thinking about how we can save water and why would we want to anyway. She has lots of ideas and help on the way, but also suffers set backs, before becoming a water superhero.

Sharing this with your children may be a route in to thinking about how they can be heroes in their own home.

What is it that they could do?

It might be becoming the household Recycling Legend, Gardening Guru, Compost King or even Fashion Revolutionary – after all it is Fashion Revolution week this week and there are all sorts of activities going on across the world to help support a more sustainable supply chain. Checking out the clothes in your cupboard and sharing love stories about your favourite garments are all ways to raise awareness. Check out the Fashion Revolution website here for more details, or follow them on twitter or instagram

 Taking control and having a positive role to play can help support children’s well being as they continue their time at home, as well as help them to develop their moral compass.

Dr Verity Jones is Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of the West of England, Bristol. Online Learning Project Lead and Acting Associate Head of Department for Learning, Teaching and Student Experience.

Keep calm and carry on learning – Part 3

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How do we help our children keep well during lock down?

In the third in a series of blog posts, Dr Verity Jones, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Education and Childhood at UWE, and Online Project Lead looks at how we can support our young people’s well being and mental health during the Covid19 pandemic.

Two weeks in …

Yes, schools are closed and learning is now being provided remotely. But, this is just the tip of the iceberg for millions of young people trying to make sense of their new world. The parks are locked, access to green spaces is restricted, extra curricula clubs and lessons have halted bar a few online alternatives, adults are at home (many with concerns over job security and finance), dinners are without usual foods, access to friends has all but dried up, people wear masks and gloves when they leave the house, domestic violence is on the rise and every media channel is pasted with rising death tolls as the invisible menace of Covid19 comes ever closer.

When the world seems to be going crazy we need to make sure we don’t forget to check in with our children. Are they okay? If the answer is no, what can we do and where do we go for help?

Structure can be a powerful tool in combatting anxiety. The structure of the school day and week has been taken away from our children. Think about how you can reinstate some of this. Have regular work, play and meal times. Try setting timers to keep everyone on track. The Pomodora strategy can work well as it chunks time into 25 minute doable chunks.

Healthy, regular meals are essential to keep a healthy mind. Cooking together can be a great time to talk to children while making something delicious to share. It doesn’t have to involve lots of ingredients, sharp knives and hot utensils. Check out the BBC who share 16 non cook ideas.

Or, start following great family friendly food writers like Claire Williamson and her 5 O’ clock Apron for tasty ideas

Talk is essential. Make the time to talk about what’s going on and how children are feeling. Reactions to the changes may result in physical, emotional or behavioural changes. Check out the government’s guidance on what to look for at different ages. Children might not want to talk to you about how they are feeling so finding routes to support is crucial. Childline is offering support for all children on their website and through their helpline (08001111). Last week the government gave key worker status to those working in this call centre in recognition of the need for this service. For 11-16 year olds think Ninja have updated their wellbeing app in light of Covid19.

Share some time together. Social distancing is not social isolation. Watch a film or play a game. How about trying something new and catch The Royal Opera House streaming Opera and Ballet performances during the outbreak via this website. Find out if you love or hate it and share those experiences!

Next week: apps that help reduce social isolation

Dr Verity Jones is Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of the West of England, Bristol. Online Learning Project Lead and Acting Associate Head of Department for Learning, Teaching and Student Experience.

Dr Verity Jones twitter

Top tips for parents home-schooling their children.

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With all UK schools closed until further notice, except for the children of key workers and children who have been identified as vulnerable, thousands of parents will have to introduce some form of learning in the home.

To help parents navigate this challenging time, Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) Ben Wiggins has shared some of his top tips for implementing a successful home-schooling programme and also highlights some potential pitfalls to avoid.

While some parents will find educating their children particularly difficult due to pressures such as caring for relatives or working from home, it is hoped that the advice can still be useful, especially to those with no previous experience of teaching or home-schooling.

Mr Wiggins is self-isolating due to an underlying health condition and is using these techniques himself as he currently home-schools his eight-year-old daughter. He also has nearly 20 years’ experience as a Primary School Teacher and is the current leader of the Primary PGCE Teacher Training Programme at UWE Bristol, which was ranked as one of the top five universities for Education in the country by the 2019 Guardian University Guide.

Top tips for home-schooling your primary school aged children:

  • Preparation. Even if your school sends you a learning pack try to know what it is you are going to be doing the next day. That way your day will flow better and you won’t look like you are just making it up. Share the timetable with your child so they know what they are going to be doing and when
  • Structure. Establish a definitive start and end time to the day. Try to get your children to view this as ‘school time’. Plan in breaks just like in school and remember, the younger the child the shorter your teaching sessions need to be
  • Play. If you have very young children remember to play with them too. You can also incorporate activities such as cooking, DIY projects and gardening into your schooling as they also provide learning

Pitfalls to avoid:

  • Don’t try to do too much. Remember to get the difficult things out of the way early and leave afternoons for more fun activities
  • Try not to get cross if your child doesn’t understand. It is difficult to educate your own children because you are so invested in their progress. However, learning takes time and is a messy process so don’t worry too much if they don’t ‘get it’ first time
  • If your child doesn’t understand what you’re saying, don’t just repeat the same explanation louder and more slowly, try to think of another way of explaining it
  • Try not to criticise the way your child does something. Parents can get very defensive about the way they learned to do something but teaching may have changed since then so try to be open minded. Who knows, you might learn something too

”It’s important to remember that you’re not going to get this right straight away so whatever happens, reflect on it and try something different the next day if things didn’t work. If you really don’t understand something, email your child’s teacher. Things will have changed a lot since you went to school so you shouldn’t be embarrassed about asking for help. For example, the teaching of detailed grammar and phonics is fairly new and something most parents will not have been taught themselves,” says Mr Wiggins.

”Teachers are industrious and creative so I’m sure it won’t be long before your child’s school shares some interesting and engaging ways for you to educate your child over the coming weeks. In the meantime, try your best, ask for help if you need it and try to enjoy yourself.”

First published UWE News and Events 26 March 2020

Keep calm and carry on learning – Part 2

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How do we maintain home learners’ focus?

In this second in a series of blog posts, Dr Verity Jones, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Education and Childhood at UWE, and Online Project Lead shares some top tips on how to motivate and inject some fun into the learning.

One week in …

The novelty, if there ever was one, may well have worn off for remote school learning as we move into week two of lockdown in the UK. With millions of young people away from the structure of a school learning environment, motivation may well be waning. So, what can we do to help?

It’s long been known that a bit of exercise can really make a difference to concentration levels. So, starting the day with a burst of energy might be just the ticket to get our young people in the right mood for learning.

YouTube is littered with fantastic videos to get everyone moving. Taking the nation by storm is Joe Wicks, with his 9am Kids Home Work Out.

If that’s a bit too energetic, then take a look at Storyhive’s Yoga for Kids and spend thirty minutes focussing on breathing and controlled movement.

While the exercise may get young people concentrating and ready for learning, motivation may well still falter. Sometimes a little friendly competition can really help re-engage…

With the excitement of the BBC Radio 2s 500 word short story competition over for another year, your budding writer may need a new focus – so, what about some poetry competitions? For a really comprehensive list of all the poetry competitions around for young people check out the Young Poets Network.  Of particular interest might be The Foyle Young Poet of the Year Award – now open for entries (age 11-17years).

How about getting creative with Environment 2020’s children’s art competition (age 0-16 years) and create either hand crafted art or a photograph to reflect the theme, ‘The Environment and the Home’. No need to go outside for this one, so perfect in our current restricted movement conditions.

Oxford’s Colleges run a number of academic writing competitions and deadlines are coming up for those interested in science.

Sometimes the thought of ‘doing’ a subject can put off some young people, so why not enhance  thinking, problem solving and skills needed to work together and check out  Channel 4’s Task Master’s daily #HomeTasking on Twitter. This invites families to a new challenge every day. All you need to do is upload short clips of the challenge set and the cast choose the best ones. Engaging and hilarious by equal measure!

Next week I will be sharing more great learning opportunities to do from the comfort of the home. Watch this space …

Dr Verity Jones is Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of the West of England, Bristol. Online Learning Project Lead and Acting Associate Head of Department for Learning, Teaching and Student Experience.

Dr Verity Jones twitter

Help and support for students experiencing harassment, assault or discrimination during social distancing and social isolation.

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A focus on domestic violence.

During Coronavirus (Covid19) UWE continues to support students to create an inclusive campus where diversity is celebrated, antisocial attitudes and behaviours are challenged and any type of harassment, assault and discrimination aren’t acceptable. UWE developed its SpeakUp campaign to enable people to SpeakUp if they see or hear something that’s not right.

This blog focuses on domestic abuse which could be heightened during a period of social distancing and social isolation. There is a growing body of research regarding gender based violence in UK universities. Though studies have not tended to specifically focus on domestic abuse at UK universities, there are indicators that it occurs amongst students, e.g., the Office of National Statistics (ONS) indicate that young adults aged 18 to 24 tend to be at higher risk for domestic abuse (Gangoli, 2019).

Domestic abuse is defined by UWE’s SpeakUp campaign as ‘Controlling someone’s behaviour, choices and freedom’ which ‘can take many forms including physical, sexual, psychological, financial, verbal or emotional abuse.’ Refuge states ‘Abuse is a choice a perpetrator makes and isolation is already used by many perpetrators as a tool of control.’

Some facts about domestic abuse are:

  • An estimated 1.3 million women have experienced domestic abuse in the year ending March 2018, In England and Wales. (ONS). Two women a week are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales alone. (Refuge).
  • While domestic abuse is overwhelmingly perpetrated by men against women, men can be abused too, in both heterosexual and gay relationships.
  • One in four lesbian/bi women have experienced domestic abuse. Almost half of all gay/bi men have experienced at least one incident of domestic abuse. (Stonewall).
  • Stress, mental illness and loss of control are not excuses for domestic abuse. The proportion of abusers with mental health problems is no higher than in society as a whole. The majority of people who suffer from stress, anger and mental health issues do not domestically abuse, and abusers are often very controlled in their behaviour, choosing who, when and how to abuse.
  • For too long people have thought what goes on in the home is private, and not their problem. Domestic abuse is a crime. It is against the law. We all have a responsibility to speak out against it.

Why is this particularly important to think about now?

Domestic abuse often relies on isolating people in a deliberate attempt to weaken connectivity with those that can support them such as family, friends, and neighbours. This can make it really difficult to get the support needed. It can lead to the person being abused not recognising the behaviour as abusive. Due to recent guidance regarding social distancing and social isolation, victims of domestic abuse may become even more dependent on the person controlling them. Additionally, as resources are stretched and safe havens such as shelters close due to people becoming ill with coronavirus, the dangers for victims of domestic abuse increase. In houses and families where people are forced to spend increasing amounts of time together, incidences of domestic abuse could increase too as tensions and anxiety rise.

How do you know if you or someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse?

Some signs of domestic abuse are listed here. This is not an exhaustive list and you do not need to be experiencing all of these, all of the time to be a victim:

  • Intentionally causing you any form of physical harm or pain
  • Preventing you from seeing family/friends (at the moment this might include through skype/whatsapp/texting e.t.c.). Monitoring your movements, checking up on you via your email, Facebook, Twitter or by looking at your text messages
  • Constant criticism/put downs/embarrassing you/putting you in a bad light to others
  • Playing mind games with you, making you unsure of your judgment (gaslighting)
  • Telling you you’re useless and couldn’t cope without them
  • Controlling your money, telling you what to wear, who to see, where to go, what to think.
  • Pressure to have sex when you don’t want to
  • Using anger/intimidation/violent language/actions to make you comply with demands
  • Being blamed for behaviour, e.g., you were “asking for it” or “made me do it”
  • Withholding or smothering with affection too quick, too soon, too much (love bombing). (Adapted from Refuge ).

What can you do to support someone you think is a victim of domestic abuse or how can you get help yourself as a victim?

The first thing to say here is, social distancing and social isolation procedures as set out by the government and listed here must be followed for your own and others’ safety.

The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has clarified guidance, noting: ‘domestic abuse victims are permitted to leave home to escape their partners or ask for help during the coronavirus lockdown’.

N.B. Please follow government guidance as it changes in response to coronavirus lockdown.

Refuge have advice and support which can be accessed through the hyperlinks. Some of their take away messages are:

For victims

  • Call 999 if in immediate danger
  • If you are unable to speak on the phone, you can use the ‘Silent Solution’ system. Press 999 and then 55 when you are connected and the operator will transfer the call to the relevant police force as an emergency.
  • Keep a diary/document abuse (take care that a perpetrator cannot access these) Bright Sky On Record  are apps that might be helpful
  • Keep an escape bag if you have a safe place to do so and think of alternative places you can safely escape to at this time following government advice on social distancing/isolation
  • Try to keep your mobile charged and on you at all times. Agree on a code word with trusted friends or family so that they can call the police if you text or call them. 
  • Phone a helpline, e.g.: Refuge Women’s Aid  CAB FLOWS Men’s Advice Line
  • Particularly in the Bristol area, NextLink provides specialist domestic abuse services for women and children in Bristol including dedicated Black and Minority Ethnic, South Asian and Somali services and a GP referral service

For those wanting to help victims/survivors:

Many of these suggestions can be operated online presently, but you must be cautious as sometimes perpetrators will have control of a victim’s phone/computer/social media.

  • Call 999 if someone is in immediate danger
  • Listen/understand/acknowledge/affirm/don’t blame
  • Support to make own decisions. Do not tell someone to leave a relationship before they are ready, let them be in control of decisions
  • Provide information for support services/help someone to seek support
  • Offer use of your own phone/social media to seek support
  • Keep an emergency exit bag at your address that can be passed to a known victim following social distancing/isolation measures
  • Look after your own self if you take a disclosure, helplines can be for you too.

For students who are victims/survivors of domestic abuse, here are some links to some useful articles targeted at students in particular:

Domestic abuse is happening at university. So why don’t we talk about it?

What Is To Be Done About Sexual and Domestic Abuse at UK Universities?

At UWE, support continues to be there if you need it

  • You can contact the University’s Wellbeing Service to arrange emotional support on +44 (0)117 32 86268.
  • You can report concerns about yourself or other UWE students 24/7 via the UWE Bristol Serious Concerns Line:

+44 (0)7788 725507 (8:30-17:00 Monday-Thursday and 8:30-16:30 Friday)

+44 (0)7814 791212 (out of hours).

(Report and Support is not a system for emergencies)

In case of emergency

  • If there is an immediate risk of serious harm to you or anyone else or a crime has taken place call 999.
  • if you’re on campus, dial 9999 from a telephone connected to the University network to reach the campus control room.

Blog post by:

Dr Helen Bovill (UWE, Education and Childhood Researcher and Senior Lecturer) and Jess Winkler (UWE, Safeguarding Manager)

Dr Helen Bovill Twitter