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Distance learning is inevitably affected by pressures on staff

Distance learning is inevitably affected by pressures on staff

Sunday 05 December 2021

Distance learning is inevitably affected by pressures on staff


Children in States' schools who are isolating at home should receive distance learning after being absent for three days. But schools do not have the capacity to provide distance learning at the same level as during lockdown.

Attendance at schools continues to decline and absence continues to rise as more students are required to isolate having tested positive for covid-19 or while awaiting PCR results.

The latest figures, released by the States on Friday afternoon, showed that there are now more than 900 known active cases of covid-19 and 360 people are awaiting test results. At the States' most-recent public briefing on covid-19, Dr Nicola Brink, Director of Public Health, revealed that children now account for nearly half of all cases of infection. 

Last weekend, in response to calls from the teachers' union NASUWT for more safety precautions in schools, the President of the Committee for Education, Sport & Culture, Deputy Andrea Dudley-Owen, suggested that rates of absence from schools were less alarming than the union was implying. She said the NASUWT was being "deliberately inflammatory". 

Deputy Dudley-Owen said: "In terms of general absence data - the difference between this current term and a pre-covid comparison - in the 2019 autumn term school attendance was at 95.69% whereas this term attendance is currently at 91.85%."

When Express asked for more details on the latest rates of absence following the surge in covid-19 cases since schools returned from their half term holiday, the Committee provided figures which showed that attendance had declined to 15-20% lower than normal across both primary and secondary phases of education.

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Pictured: The Committee for Education, Sport & Culture provided Express with figures for attendance and absence in the weeks starting 15 November (in the first table above) and 22 November (in the second table above). 

On the last day for which figures have been made publicly available - Monday of this week, 29 November - attendance was 80.6% in primary schools and only 76% in secondary schools, meaning that one in four secondary-age children and one in five primary-age children was absent from school.

Nick Hynes, Director of Education (pictured top left), acknowledged that "in the past couple of weeks in particular our attendance rates have dropped".

“This was to be expected as cases have continued to rise throughout the community,” said Mr Hynes.

“It is important to highlight that these will not be the same young people off week-to-week but rather a rolling and dynamic situation.”

Many of the children required to remain at home for covid-19 reasons are well enough to do schoolwork. Express asked the Committee for an update on the current approach to distance learning.

“In terms of our distance learning policy, this has continued to be updated and refined since it was introduced for the first lockdown and developed further for the second lockdown,” said Mr Hynes.

“It primarily starts after a student has been absent for more than three days, at which time the school will provide material for them to do while at home.

"However, even in those first three days, parents and students have access to a range of online learning resources that schools have either provided access to – such as Mathletics or Oak Academy – or provided information on so that parents know where to find them.”

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Pictured: This week the States published the number of covid-19 cases by age group and it showed the disproportionate burden now falling on children, the vast majority of whom are unvaccinated. 

As absence rates increase, the Committee is asking schools to remind parents of the online resources available for distance learning.

But the Committee acknowledges that distance learning cannot be provided in the same way or to the same level as it could during lockdowns one and two in early 2020 and early 2021 respectively when most children were learning at home and most staff were not teaching students in school. 

“With current pressures on colleagues, it would be unrealistic to expect staff to have the capacity to deliver a distance learning offer akin to that we provided during lockdown earlier this year,” said Mr Hynes.

“I again want to thank our staff for their continued efforts and commitment to our young people.”

In April, the Committee faced questions in the States about its distance learning policies. The Committee said then that it was appointing a digital learning champion in every school.

Since Tuesday, masks have been compulsory in the communal areas of secondary schools and further education settings and for adults only where social distancing is not possible in primary schools. However, the Committee has declined a request from the NASUWT to make masks compulsory at all times in all areas of every school.

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