During ACT’s current lockdown and period of At-Home Learning, we have sought parent views and experiences from many different places. We’ve listened to parents via our member P&Cs and directly. And we’ve been very grateful to have regular opportunities to voice what we have heard from parents – your views and needs – to decision makers in government including the Minister for Education and senior staff at the Education Directorate (EDU).
Here’s what we have heard about At-Home Learning, and what has happened when your voices have been raised.
After the period of online learning in 2020, we provided a lot of feedback to the directorate on the most difficult aspects for families. We have continued to seek your experiences this year and pass them on.
You told us - biggest concerns
We've heard that people are struggling and need support and lots of reassurance, and want this over as soon as possible.
Parents’ biggest concerns are:
- mental health/wellbeing and lack of social engagement and interaction for kids
- pressure and impossibility of juggling working from home and helping with home learning; not being able to properly attend to children
- amount of online/screen time
- kids falling behind with learning
- financial concerns.
You also said that At-Home Learning was almost impossible with small children – they cannot work on tasks un-aided – and some families’ circumstances make it particularly challenging.
We’ve voiced your struggles to EDU and the Minister – they do understand! We’ve also been the spokespeople for the struggles of parents, responding to over a dozen requests for interviews in the media. We’ve talked about the nitty-gritty of At-Home Learning on TV, radio and in the press.
All this helps decision-makers understand the needs of families which need to be balanced against public health measures.
You told us – it is better
In general, parents say that At-Home learning is much improved in 2021 and that they are grateful to their school and its staff:
- lessons and materials are higher quality and better suited to students and the situation
- better balanced with lockdown life, with work being given which is better incorporated into other family experiences, and with less work to do
- more flexible in timing and tasks which is appreciated
- schools have reached out with surveys, emails, calls, and fun (eg book week)
- support has been provided by Learning Support Assistants (LSAs).
We have fed this back to EDU and the Minister! Praise all round!
You told us - improvements still needed
Now that At-Home Learning is continuing into Term 4, parents want:
- ways for the kids to interact (peer contact) – the fun, social side of school, not just the learning
- more off-line work including physical resources that can be collected from school
- direct instruction from teachers during ‘meets’, with chances to ask and answer questions; many parents want a second ‘meet’ later in the day to resolve difficulties/uncompleted work
- everyone is struggling and needs support - parents need lots of reassurance about the loss of learning and the future.
We also received some detailed issues with technologies and platforms.
Council is concerned by the different experiences families are having, with some teachers and schools obviously meeting student and family needs better than others. In particular, there are differences in the provision of physical rather than online resources, the amount of work, and the hours of contact/work per day provided or expected.
After seeking further details from parents, we have provided extensive and detailed feedback to senior executives at EDU and requested these improvements for Term 4 At-Home Learning. We also shared instances of great experiences that parents relayed so that more families could benefit from best practice.
This is happening
We believe that EDU will be working with principals and school staff to continue improvements and learning from other schools, including peer-to-peer sharing and additional resources.
You told us - complex needs
Last year, we heard from parents on how At-Home Learning is especially challenging for kids with learning difficulties, complex needs and disability. Parents wanted:
- support from LSAs but this was difficult remotely
- adjustments so that students could access and engage in learning materials
- strong partnership between home and school so that if needed strategies could change and evolve from week to week.
Early in the 2021 lockdown, we saw that it was not clear what students with additional needs could expect from At-Home Learning.
We are still hearing the significant challenges in At-Home Learning. We have delved deeper and discovered that better adjustments, appropriate communications and more support were needed. We collated extensive, specific feedback on things that were going well with At-Home Learning and areas where improvements were needed.
After feedback from parents in 2020 which we voiced to EDU, we were extremely grateful to see significant resources invested in staff Personal Development and training. This has resulted in better planning, staff confidence and the provision of LSA-led online sessions for students (mentioned in improvements above) which have been greatly appreciated by parents.
Early in the lockdown, we held a session specifically focused on what At-Home Learning would look like for students with additional needs (based on information we had received from EDU), so that families had the information they needed before At-Home Learning began.
We have also provided extensive feedback to EDU staff about improvements needed by families and the best experiences as At-Home Learning commenced.
To support parents, we’ve held three online forums, specifically focused on learning at home for children with additional needs. The latest of these was a chat and connect session the likes of which Council has not run before – an informal session giving parents chance to connect, share experiences and strategies, and to offload.
EDU staff attended one these sessions and heard direct feedback from parents’ experiences to take back to schools and colleagues for improvement in how home learning was being delivered.
If you are experiencing difficulties in At-Home Learning that cannot be resolved by speaking to the school, please continue to contact Council or EDU’s feedback and complaints service. Council remains connected with EDU’s student engagement team and will continue to feedback parent experiences with your permission.
You told us – parents and P&Cs
- Parent-parent interactions are also important and being missed
- Parents need to be able to provide feedback to their school about At-Home Learning and also about how well the school is communicating with parents. There’s a role for P&Cs as a conduit.
- A number of P&Cs asked for ideas for fundraising that would work at the moment
- P&Cs are worried about solvency and their businesses such as canteens and Outside School Hours Care (OSHC) services.
P&C businesses and solvency have been supported by Council:
- regular updates and newsletters on business and employment information and help available
- detailed information sessions at our August meeting on solvency for Canteens/OSHC services
- individualised assistance calls to over a dozen P&Cs running canteen/OSHC service
- publication of COVID-safe fundraising ideas
- lobbied EDU, ACT Health, ACT Economic Development and Ministers for support of canteens
To support P&Cs to build social interactions between parents (if they currently have the capacity), we are researching and collating quick and easy ideas for community-building in lockdown (article coming soon!) which will continue to be relevant as parents are unlikely to be able to enter schools for some time.
Council will also be sharing stories of P&Cs being effective in assisting home-school communication and feedback on home learning to inspire and assist others. In addition, we’re creating resources to help P&Cs with surveys if they wish to open further channels for parent feedback.
We were able to secure variations to the Canteen deed from EDU and some clarifications which may assist P&C businesses. We continue to advocate for Government assistance which is available to P&C businesses
We know P&Cs are doing a great job supporting their communities where they can and creating opportunities for parent feedback at meetings and through surveys and the like - and we salute you!
See also - How Council is raising parent voices on returning to school.