What can you do if your kids can’t go to school?

The news that the government is shutting schools to try to stem the spread of the coronavirus may have delighted some reluctant pupils – but it means problems for those heading for crucial exams, and real headaches for parents.

What will the impact be on your family?

The government has said it wants to keep parents who are doing vital jobs including NHS staff and delivery drivers in work, and a skeleton network of schools and nurseries is set to remain open for the children of these vital workers.

However, if you are not a key worker, and you can’t call on delighted grandparents as childminders, you may be able to get time off work if your children’s school is closed. This is known as “dependant leave” which allows mums and dads to take time off to deal with an unexpected problem or emergency. You should not face disciplinary action or lose your job – although you won’t be paid.

In most cases, if you or your partner are furloughed or working from home, you could simply find that childminding is added to your daily routine.

If you are not careful, you could find yourself paying out to keep the kids occupied – but there are plenty of things that they can do for free.

Keeping them occupied

That means that you are likely to have children at home, with none of the usual distractions like visiting friends or trips out. That might sound like a problem. But worse is the fact that unless we are qualified teachers ourselves, closed schools may mean our children missing out on the education they need.

They should have some school work. The government says it expects schools to provide 3-5 hours of online teaching a day for children at home. But the good news is that there are plenty of educational resources online. And many of them are free.

Many schools already pay for online resources, so it is worth checking which ones you can access. These will follow the curriculum, and if you can keep your children focussed, they could help ensure that they don’t miss too many key lessons.

About half of UK schools already use sites such as MathsWatch, for example, which caters for children from Year 4 up to A-level. It provides video teaching, online assessments, feedback tools, independent learning, printable worksheets and more.

The BBC will also provide curriculum-based programmes. They will include three hours of primary school programming every weekday on CBBC, and at least two hours for secondary pupils on BBC 2 with programming to support the GCSE curriculum, with everything from performances of Shakespeare plays to science, history and maths topics. Lessons may also be available on iPlayer, red button and online.

BBC Bitesize also has lots of content divided into subject and age categories. So, as long as your children have a laptop and broadband, there could be plenty to keep them occupied.

You could also find some free resources for craft projects, and free books from top children’s authors to enjoy.

Cut the cost of internet access

No Broadband? Many broadband operators, including market leader BT, have removed data caps, and mobile operators have provided data packages for children in households that currently lack broadband. Mobile network Three UK will provide free unlimited data to disadvantaged children in England during lockdown.

If you don’t have broadband, and can’t afford it, help may be available. Schools, trusts and councils can request support for you through the DfE website. Your first step may be to have a word with your children’s teacher.

For really effective learning, nothing can beat a lesson with a really good teacher - but until the crisis is over, perhaps online learning can offer the next best thing.

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