Dawn of the virtual parents' evening

Dawn of the virtual parents’ evening: Teachers could hold Zoom chats with mothers and fathers rather than face-to-face meetings before pandemic

  • Covid-19 pandemic could cause a permanent shift to virtual parents’ evenings
  • Geoff Barton of  Association of School and College Leaders called for ‘new norm’
  • He recommended virtual meetings after calling physical queuing ‘Stalinist’ 

Coronavirus could cause a permanent shift to virtual parents’ evenings after a teaching union described parents physically queueing to talk to teachers about their children as ‘Stalinist’.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, has suggested online parents’ evenings and governors’ meetings could become the new normal after the pandemic. 

The Covid crisis has seen a number of school events – including nativity plays and open evenings – become virtual, in a bid to reduce the number of interactions between pupils, parents and staff onsite.

Though millions of children and parents struggling to balance work and home-schooling are desperate for schools to reopen following months of closure, some unionists would like pandemic measures including virtual parents’ evenings to remain in place.

Mr Barton said: ‘There are some things which schools have traditionally done which they are now doing differently, which I think will become the norm.

‘Online parents’ meetings have been quite a hit with quite a lot of parents because instead of the days of queuing up as if you’re in Stalinist Soviet Union to get your five minutes with a teacher, actually having an appointment with that teacher and being able to talk to them about how your child’s done that has been really effective.

Coronavirus could cause a permanent shift to virtual parents’ evenings after a teaching union described parents queueing to talk about their children’s futures in person as ‘Stalinist’

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, has suggested online parents’ evenings and governors’ meetings could become the new normal

Pupils should have the RIGHT to repeat academic year because lockdown will leave them ‘scarred for life’ by exam grades – after PM said schools will stay shut until at least March 8 

Pupils in England who have lost out on significant learning time as a result of the cycle of coronavirus lockdowns should be allowed to repeat an academic year, a think-tank has urged.

The Education Policy Institution is calling on the government to consider allowing students to repeat a year of education, where this is supported by parents, to tackle extreme cases of learning loss.

It adds that there is a risk of inconsistency and unfairness of grading between different schools and colleges, and between students, as well as a risk of significant grade inflation this year.

However, it said that this policy would only help a minority of pupils across the country and called on the government to ‘focus on a much bigger and targeted package for the thousands of pupils who have lost learning through no fault of their own’.

Though headteachers expressed interest in the idea, they said the scheme could only be open to ‘small numbers’ to avoid a ‘logjam’, after Boris Johnson announced schools would stay shut until at least March 8.  

Other teachers warned that thousands of pupils in England could be ‘scarred for the rest of their lives’ as a result of mass disruption to their education caused by government pandemic action.  

The warning comes as the consultation by Ofqual and the Department for Education (DfE), on how A-level and GCSE students will be awarded grades after this summer’s exams were cancelled, is closing. 

The grading of students became a fiasco last summer when exams were cancelled amid school closures, as thousands of A-level students had their results downgraded from school estimates by an algorithm before Ofqual announced a U-turn, allowing them to use teachers’ predictions.   

‘I think there’s quite a lot of leaders who could see that as being part of a future mix where you are actually doing it through Zoom or Teams calls, or whatever it might be.’  

He added that virtual parents’ evenings have ensured that every family receives the same allocation of time and it has allowed parents to have ‘a more confidential conversation’ in the privacy of their own home.

Schools are likely to have a ‘more blended’ approach’ to learning in the future, Mr Barton said.

Sixth-formers could be given more flexibility to work from home if they are struggling to travel into school, while school consortiums could look to offer some A-level courses to pupils online, he added.

The proposals for how schools could look post-pandemic come as this week marks a year since the first coronavirus cases were reported in the UK, and the anniversary of the first known death in the country.

When secondary schools fully reopened in the autumn term, following the introduction of year-group ‘bubbles’, many headteachers reported good behaviour among pupils, according to Mr Barton. 

Matt Hood, chair of governors at Bay Leadership Academy in Morecambe, said the secondary school is considering keeping year groups in different zones of the school site to encourage calmer behaviour.

He said: ‘Previously it was organised in a way where pupils moved around a lot. Now it’s organised in a different way – pupils don’t move around a lot and teachers move around much more.

‘Those logistics changes mean we just don’t have this big disruption every hour in the day with 1,000 children moving around the site. We have a much more controlled, calm, school environment within the school day.

‘I think there’s lots of schools that have seen the benefit of that and might stick with it.’

Mr Hood added: ‘We may not keep the whole thing but there are certainly some features that we think are really helpful. 

‘Our lovely Year 7s are very much more like lovely Year 7s than by this time in the year when they have realised that maybe they’re going to turn into Year 8s or Year 9s.

‘It’s been lovely to keep them a bit younger for a little bit longer.

Virtual parents’ evenings are also on the list of changes that the school is looking to keep as participation rates have increased among families who may have previously struggled to attend the events in-person.

Mr Hood, principal of Oak National Academy, a government-backed virtual school set up amid Covid-19, said: ‘Some parents are nervous about coming into school. They didn’t have a great experience. They don’t really like it.

‘This is something that I think the odd school may have experimented with in the past, but I suspect will be a much more wholesale change.’ 

It comes as Boris Johnson urged announced schools would stay shut until at least March 8, even overruling Education Secretary Gavin Williamson who wanted pupils to return at the end of February.

As he finally put an end to weeks of speculation and wrangling by announcing schools would not reopen until at least March 8, Mr Johnson this week conceded to fellow MPs that the closures were having a ‘huge impact’ on the education of millions of pupils.

In a bid to mitigate against further damage by extending the current school closures beyond half-term, Mr Johnson yesterday announced a £300million support package. The money, he said, would be used to help fund targeted tuition.

However last night it emerged the decision to extend school closures was one pushed through by Mr Johnson himself, amid a split in his cabinet.

According to the Times, Mr Williamson had wanted to reopen at the end of February – straight after half-term.

But Mr Johnson is said to have overruled him, insisting the continued closure of schools would ‘buy the extra weeks needed’ to vaccinate the UK’s most vulnerable residents. 

One source told the Times: ‘Gavin was pushing very hard. He wanted schools to reopen after February half-term and believed it could be done safely. But in the end the data on hospitalisations and infection rates won the argument. 

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