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Opinion16th April 2020

Planning a framework for home learning – ABC @ Home

ABC @ Home Blog Series

By Rebecca Boomer-Clark, Director of Secondary Education, Ark Schools

From the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic, across Ark Schools we have been working hard to support our students, parents and staff through these unprecedented times – whilst acknowledging that individuals will be living through their own very different experiences of lockdown. Schools are being asked to fulfil a very different role for the small numbers of children who continue to attend in person, whilst trying to maintain some sort of rhythm, routine and expectation for the majority who are experiencing their new normal remotely.

Some aspects of our education system will be permanently changed by this pandemic, but to navigate the uncertainty generated by our immediate challenges, we have drawn first upon the systems and approaches which are already in place across the network to create a remote learning curriculum framework called the ABC @ Home.

The ABC @ Home aims to mitigate the effect of extended school closure on students’ learning and support parents to navigate the challenges of home schooling. It also supports teachers to share resources and collaborate remotely, helping to reduce individual workload and pressure. We will publish a series of blogs to outline the development and implementation of the ABC @ Home over the coming weeks – in the spirit of sharing what has worked as hoped, and what hasn’t!

ABC @ Home is based on Ark’s “ABC” – the “Ark Base Curriculum” – a guide we have developed over the past two years to establish a network-wide agreed curriculum structure. At first, the ABC operated at what we call the “macro-curriculum” level covering the number of subjects to be taught, and the time they should be taught in. We have increasingly turned our thoughts to “curriculum content”, what should be taught in each subject in the time available. You can find out more about this work in another blog series we published last year, here.

We had established a common technology framework across our schools, and an agreed platform for sharing and collaboration. We settled on the Microsoft 365 suite, which means Microsoft Teams was already on its way to becoming ubiquitous within our network before the shutdown made it the dominant piece of tech in all our lives!

Alongside the importance of drawing on the systems, thinking and infrastructure we had already built across the Ark network, we knew that the ABC @ Home could not simply mimic our school structures and practices. From the outset, we agreed on the principles which would underpin the ABC @ Home developments. I will outline these principles briefly here, and others will discuss them in more depth in future blogs.

  1. It is not possible to recreate school at home – at the beginning of the crisis, this needed to be stated clearly; although I suspect nearly a month in, many parents know this for certain too! 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. Therefore, our approach had to carefully consider what could be meaningfully done at home, and what we needed to prioritise to ensure that young people and their parents could do it.
  2. Our approach is focused on supporting students so that routines are sustainable, healthy and achievable – schools are tightly orchestrated places, where the fundamental organising framework is the timetable, and in most, bells ring to tell you when to move on. This is not the case at home and helping young people to build and sustain healthy routines is an important part of the current challenge.
  3. We are not asking parents to become teachers – in homes up and down the country the value of a good teacher is being reinforced daily; making visible to many the hard work and learning that goes into developing excellent classroom practitioners. At Ark we invest a huge amount of thought and time in supporting teachers to learn from each other to enhance their practice. We knew it would be unfair and impracticable to ask parents to simply fill in for their children’s teachers. Instead, we needed to provide a framework which would empower parents and young people to work effectively at home without direct teacher intervention.
  4. We don’t want to reinvent the wheel. We’ve built our framework on the best available resources that are already in existence, adapting them and seeking to partner with others first – the ABC @ Home, draws extensively from Maths Mastery and English Mastery. These established curriculum programmes have also shared their work for free with the wider system here. Ark Curriculum Plus is also contributing to national, sector-led efforts to support schools. We don’t have all the answers, and in the ABC @ Home, we are grateful to be able to draw upon work and resources from other school trusts and wider educational bodies.
  5. It is vital that home learning balances teacher workload vs their own added responsibilities at home during this time – teaching is a demanding profession – even in less remarkable times than these. We are acutely conscious of the demands already placed on teachers to deliver the Community Classrooms for the children of key workers, safeguard vulnerable young people, and contribute to planning remote learning. All whilst fulfilling their own caring responsibilities at home. Ensuring that teachers are supported and well-resourced for home learning is essential.
  6. Most curriculum resources improve as they are iterated; we will share what we learn with the sector and will learn from others – our work on curriculum development has been built on the best available evidence and most reliable research, but it has also involved exploring different options and alternatives and like anything new, it has been refined as we learn more about what works in practice. The ABC @ Home will be the same, we know we will need to adapt and learn as it goes into practice.

In the next blog in this series, Ark’s Head of Data, Systems and Improvement Lauren Thorpe, who has led on establishing the ABC @ Home, shares more about our strategy and the framework we have developed.