These are show notes taken from Episode #5 of our podcast: My Pandemic Homeschool Story. Listen to the full episode here.
Syd interviews Rae, whose children stayed with UK Virtual School during one of the most difficult peaks of COVID. She tells the story of their home education journey and recounts the struggles they had to go through whilst isolating during the lockdown.
What was life like for Rae’s family before COVID? What changed in their routines?
I have three boys. I’m a business and style coach for entrepreneurs and business owners. I had put the boys into local schools because in Brighton, the schooling is really excellent. It was all pretty idyllic pre-COVID. I started to notice a change when we had that big break. We were homeschooling effectively whilst they’re still at school. What I really identified quickly was that the national curriculum is not set up to be a homeschool curriculum. I was having to stop my work and teach my children how to do the things they needed to do in their lessons. It was a little bit unbelievable. We’d be spending eight, nine hours trying to complete everything basically, on our own. I very quickly recognised that it was not sustainable or healthy for the children and I. At that point, I started to look at our options going forward.
Rae also talked about their experiences during the first week at UK Virtual School – their adjustments and how they adapted a new routine.
That very first week was a big relief for me. The teachers would email me back straight away saying, “Oh, I noticed that Theo felt a bit anxious when I asked him about this. Is there any way that I can help? How does he communicate? Is there anything that I can say to help reassure him?” and we really went into the nuance of how Theo worked. At some point, he had like a little fidget toy to just help him calm down that first week because what we noticed was that it’s a much more intense environment.
These children were used to being put in the background [at the regular schools] and suddenly there’s eight people on a call. The teachers are going to ask questions and they’re going to have to respond. They’re going to have to listen, otherwise they’re not going to be able to fulfill what’s being required of them. So it really made them have to step up and actually focus which I was enormously grateful for. Very quickly, they’ve developed bonds with their teachers and that actual academic ability was starting to skyrocket their attention – their punctuality, their own sort of ownership of their work. Because they respected their teachers. They wanted to have done the work and they wanted to be able to respond and I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is worth its weight in gold,” – just the fact of how they are as students now.
The children become the focus of the session rather than the teachers because we ask them questions and get them engaged. Suddenly, they have to take responsibility for being present, being able to answer, and being able to say “I don’t get that bit.” It creates a very different mindset in the child. They’re not passively learning anymore.
With my eldest, we really saw the biggest change. I wanted to check any gaps that he missed in Year 7. It’s amazing to have somebody clearly look through everything that he should know and see where his weaknesses and strengths are. By doing that, within three months, Joseph went from having some gaps in his Year 7 knowledge to actually being able to answer questions and do homework independently. He understood that it was a privilege to be having the choice to go to UK Virtual School and because he knew that he was choosing to do this, he was so much more willing to sit down, do the homework, be present, and participate well. The sessions were an hour so for that hour, he needed to give it his all. Than then gave him the privilege of not having to go into an environment that was highly stressful for him.
Joseph felt very empowered – and that’s the thing he [previously] had not been feeling. I think COVID had taken away choices from children and us ,children particularly. He felt very disempowered, pressured, and slightly lost. UK Virtual School sort of put him in the spotlight a bit, supported him and encouraged him. Very quickly, he started to thrive which made him feel good! And that’s what we want for our children, isn’t it, really?
UK Virtual School is not a nine-to-three school. We don’t have full daytime lessons. We don’t try to replicate schools in that way.
I wouldn’t say I’m a natural homeschool parent. If you sort of look at the archetype of a homeschool parent, I probably wouldn’t fit it. I’m a businesswoman, I have limited company. I’m a busy person, so when I came to look at homeschooling, I really had to look at the fact that I was becoming a facilitator of home education rather than becoming a homeschool teacher. I think that was quite an important difference to make.
It’s amazing how schools have really struggled with technology. It’s taken them practically a year to catch up to doing live lessons. A lot of tutors and educators, whose complete income relied on face-to-face, reverted to and went online because they had to. We forced ourselves to learn how to do things online. It also raised a lot of issues surrounding the education system as a whole – because it’s impossible to get a group of 30 kids in an interactive Zoom classroom, that just doesn’t work. Then it makes you think: Does it really work in a normal classroom? Are they actually engaging?
For me, it really highlighted how the educational system was an industrious move to get people to work. It was slightly a childcare facility – and that’s fine! But is it raising the adults that we want in our society going forward? Are they equipped with the skills that they need? A lot of the things that I do as a business coach is teaching adults how to use the study skills that I could have learned at school.
A lot of adults are like, “I’m finding myself.” It’s because we’ve not had the ability to explore who we really are as a child – what our personality is. Usually, we’re told how to behave, how to act, how to think, and how to value Maths and English but not art so much. We don’t really get the ability or capacity to think for ourselves. Sometimes, we’re dictated so many times who we should be and in that, we lose ourselves – when we grow up as an adult, we don’t really know who we are.
How does Rae see the future of education? Does she think there’s going to be a big shift now towards more blended approaches post COVID?
I hope so, I’m a millennial! I think millennials are those people who’ve had one foot in both worlds: pre-Internet and post-Internet. I think our children are sort of getting the influence of things that we’ve learned and experienced. It’s important that we start seeing that the world is changing. It’s important that we allow our children to become adaptable and use technology as a way of supporting that adaptability. As a society, if we can equip our children with ground foundational skills and techniques, then they can have the fluidity to adapt and change with technology as it evolves – and feel very supported and empowered. The lack of adaptability and being in such tight models of education is going to hinder the future of their generation.
Podcasts are accessible to many families due to the number of platforms hosting them – and you don’t have to be enrolled to listen and be able to relate! The content covered is just as much of a learning journey to everyone. The UK Virtual School podcast plays a key part in our journey to an education revolution. Hosted by our founder Syd, the series covers a plethora of topics about changing the landscape of home education – the UKVS ethos, tips and guides for parents, shifting mindsets, interviews with actual parents and teachers, and many more! Listen to the series and episodes here.