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Opinion12th May 2020

ABC @ Home: Building a home learning timetable (and keeping it flexible)

ABC @ Home Blog Series

By Matt Butler, Head of Curriculum at Ark

In the third of our blogs on the ABC @ Home – Ark’s support framework for its schools during the current school shut down – Matt Butler, Ark’s Head of Curriculum discusses how we decided the structure of the timetable and why we made the decisions we did.

The core principle of the ABC @ Home framework is that it’s not possible to recreate school at home. As Becks said in the first of these blogs:

“Schools are complex systems, with many interlocking parts, which above all focus on learning the curriculum, but which also sustain many other relationships and practices, that interact and reinforce each other—pastoral, academic, financial and social. We could not simply push all this work from a single, well-staffed building into hundreds of children’s homes.”

We know a formal timetable would be impractical for many parents. They are either suddenly working from home, or are key workers who are at work every day. For any family with multiple children, the complexity increases. Our digital survey of parents has so far been completed by 10,500 families. It suggests that, contrary to our expectations, almost everyone has access to the internet at home, but that it is much less likely there is a suitable device for every child to learn on at the same time.

So, there is no formal, daily timetable for parents and students to feel bound to. In fact, especially in the Early Years, we want to encourage parents instead to do as much as they can, and to feel empowered to do that well, but not to worry if they have missed out on something if they were unable keep up with a whole, strict timetable.

Moreover, the ABC @ Home framework was conceived as part of our network’s commitment to schools shaping their own responses, as well as our desire to ensure our staff did not experience excessive workload themselves during this time. It is a tool to support schools and our aim is to provide sufficient resources that schools can choose the appropriate content to match the amount of hours they think necessary and reasonable, for their families and their staff. We do not envisage any one student going through everything in the ABC @ Home every day or week, and we intend that the whole offer will flex based on feedback from parents and schools about what is doable.

Therefore, the timetable for the ABC @ Home is not about the number of hours on any one given day, but about ensuring that enough material is available to build a useful home learning offer. We also want to make sure that there is a balance in the curriculum offer—so the different subjects and activities are in an appropriate ratio to each other. Not every school is able to offer pre-recorded or live lessons, but where they can, we want to ensure these do not overburden young people. Therefore, we suggest that the work content of any lesson be no more than 40 minutes, and that 40 minutes of learning at home is probably closer to 20 minutes of activity in the classroom.

Ark is unashamedly committed to high achievement for all our young people, and we have done genuinely leading-edge work on the home learning curriculum design and support. However, because it is not possible to recreate school at home, we know that there is significant risk that the attainment gap will increase due to the current crisis and we are working on plans for when schools reopen to address this issue But perhaps the most important decision we have made in constructing the ABC @ Home offer is about the relative role of pastoral and academic support from school. We recognise that for all our young people, the sudden ending of the social and cultural interaction that takes place in school is, first and foremost, a pastoral challenge. Therefore, the first activities listed in the ABC @ Home framework are those connecting teachers to our young people to ask about their experience of lockdown, support their wellbeing and provide a guide through these difficult times.

Feedback from our schools suggests this is the right balance, and the academic work students are doing is benefitting.