Scotland’s remote learning postcode lottery: Just one in three council areas say they host daily live teaching

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Investigation

A postcode lottery of live online teaching of Scotland’s children has been revealed as calls are made for set standards over remote learning during the coronavirus lockdown.

Research by the on Sunday shows that only one in three local authorities indicated that online lessons are being provided to all their schools on a daily basis.

And in East Dunbartonshire alone, which is home to some of the top performing state schools in Scotland, investigations were launched after angry parents lodged complaints that the online teaching time that does exist varies between over 50 minutes and a structured four-and-a-half hours a day.

Guidance on remote learning by Education Scotland, the Scottish Government schooling improvement agency, states that children and young people are “entitled” to “a balance of live learning and independent activity”.

Of 27 Scottish councils who responded to questions about the extent of daily live online lessons, nine indicated all schools were providing it.

Orkney council confirmed live lessons were limited because of poor connectivity and on Shetland the offering is “optional” while Edinburgh confirmed that not all their schools were being offered live daily lessons.

Aberdeen City Council said it was unlikely that live lessons were offered on a daily basis “across all subject areas”, while Midlothian Council indicated the “vast majority” are holding live sessions and more were starting next week.

Scottish Borders, North Ayrshire, and Angus councils said they could not be sure whether all the schools in their area were getting live online teaching on a daily basis.

The local authorities that indicated that all their schools were offering daily live lessons include West Lothian, Fife, Moray, Renfrewshire, Stirling, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and Inverclyde.

Falkirk Council said it had issued guidance to all schools to ensure all are providing live daily lessons.

West Dunbartonshire Council even loaned out more than 2,000 Chromebooks to families to support home learning to allow all schools to provide daily online lessons. The council says schools are timetabling five hours of online learning per day, which includes a mix of live and pre-recorded lessons for children and young people.

The contacted 32 local authorities in Scotland and none that responded were able to say that they had set a standard time for live online classes or were able to lay out how long pupils are getting with their teachers online.

Pupils began learning at home last week as new public health restrictions mean only the children of key workers and the most vulnerable children have access to in-school learning.

Remote learning across the country has been set up to take into account that pupils cannot spend every period in front of a screen, and schools have set up a mix of ‘live’ lessons and independent working. In many cases live lessons are recorded or lessons are pre-recorded so children can watch back at a later date.

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The Scottish government has previously stated that a uniform approach would be “counterproductive”.

In East Dunbartonshire complaints have been lodged as parents raised concerns at an “unacceptable” disparity on the amount of online teaching that had emerged.

At Lenzie Academy, pupils are getting two, 25 minute live lessons with parents told that the approach “ensures that if a family has three children in Lenzie Academy, all in different years, they can access a computer at the appropriate time for them and there is no clash”. For many pupils live lessons are accompanied with offline work with parents and pupils reporting it is not keeping them occupied takes between 15m and 30m to complete.

Parents were also told by the school that the timings also took into account that many parents and carers would be working from home and may also need access to a computer.

One-and-a-half miles away at St. Ninian’s High School,the Roman Catholic co-educational comprehensive secondary school, in Kirkintilloch, parents said their children were getting three structured 90 minute online sessions. And it was a similar story at other schools, where the offering was a mix of live lessons and pre-recorded videos with work to go with it.

The understands that Quality Improvement Officers and Education Officers are now collating all feedback within East Dunbartonshire to identify what the current online provision does not provide.

Rona Mackay the MSP for Strathkelvin and Bearsden has met with East Dunbartonshire Council officers to discuss parents’ concerns.

A letter from Ms Mackay’s office to some concerned parents said: “First and foremost, Rona conveyed to the council how urgent and serious this matter is for pupils at the school.

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“We were assured that… the council have relayed all initial feedback and complaints regarding the online provision to the school. As a result, there was a clear feeling we would expect this to be acted upon as quickly as possible.

“The overarching point is the clear lack of parity and provision of online learning being offered by the school.

“As was made clear, Rona was deeply concerned to hear of the inequity of provision within Lenzie Academy as compared to other schools both within her constituency but wider throughout East Dunbartonshire. We received assurances that these discrepancies between provision has been highlighted to the school from both the council and, of course, by parents and carers.

“Rona and the council were in agreement that the communication from the school in regards to their model of online learning should have been, in one regard, more thorough, clear and transparent to parents and pupils. It is unacceptable that parents and pupils feel shut out from the process and unable to voice their concerns to enact change.”

Angry discussions on online forums led to the complaints within the local authority.

One parent said: “My son is first year at St Ninians and gets three subjects a day split into 90 minute sessions. I can’t believe what I’m hearing from friends about the lack of work from Lenzie Academy. There’s no consistency in East Dunbartonshire Council at all.”

But questions remain about whether some schools in some local authorities are even providing live daily lessons.

North Lanarkshire Council said not all schools will be doing live real-time teaching “as some will record sessons”.

Aberdeenshire said it had access to live lessons, via e-Sgoil’s Lockdown Live programme but not all will schools had video-conferencing facilities.

Highland Council said there is “no expectation that staff or pupils would be online for a ‘normal’ school day”.

West Lothian Council says there was a “potential” for live lessons but individual staff would decide the most appropriate method of delivery.

East Renfrewshire Council has said that schools would be using a range of different methods of teaching which “might” include live lessons.

South Lanarkshire Council said that “where context and infrastructure allow all schools are working towards live interactions with pupils on a daily basis”.

Aberdeenshire Council said the remote tools it used, such as Microsoft Teams and Google Classroom, had the “option” of video conferencing tools but it did not say whether schools would use them.

East Ayrshire Council and Dundee City Council has also said it has been left to individual schools to decide.

South Ayrshire Council said its approach “may include” live or recorded lessons, to support remote learning at this time.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council) said it was “a requirement for all schools to offer live online teaching on a daily basis but it is up to schools how much they provide depending on age, needs and educational stage of pupils”.

Anecdotal evidence reveals that the amount of live teaching has also varied elsewhere with parents at one secondary school within Renfrewshire Council getting around 30 minutes a day. While some parents at a South Lanarkshire secondary reported five minutes daily on Zoom.

Professor Lindsay Paterson, one of the country’s pre-eminent voices on education, said general standards were required for the remote learning that pupils would expect to get.

“To try to ensure some common standards across Scotland, the Scottish government should be setting minimum standards. They might reply that it is up to individual local authorities, but setting minimum standards would not stop individual authorities from going beyond these,” he said.

Mr Paterson, professor of education policy at the University of Edinburgh said that evidence about online learning showed that there has to be regular, live full-class teaching, with interactive opportunities between pupil and teacher. There also had to be regular opportunities for one-to-one live conversations between the teacher and each pupil.

And there had to be regular work given to the pupils, which they have to submit to the teacher, and on which the feedback is given.

“There is no specific requirement of an amount of live contact per day, because a lot depends on the quality of any contact, but it’s difficult to see how these criteria could be met with less than about 2-3 hours [remote learning]per day at primary school, or less than 3-4 hours [remote learning]per day at secondary.

“The reason at primary is that there will always be difficulties with getting all the pupils to be able to work the electronic connection properly, even with the optimistic assumption that they will all have an adult supervising them.

“The reason for the higher minimum at secondary is simply having to give adequate attention each week to the full range of subjects. It could be that for older students at secondary fewer hours would be required, but, for that to be feasible, the syllabus would have to be clear, and also the criteria of assessment would have to be clear. Since the Scottish Qualifications Authority has still given no clear guidance to teachers on the criteria of assessment, it is extremely difficult for teachers to decide what the best amount of live teaching is required for older students.

“What matters is that pupils should be working for the kinds of lengths of time that I suggested, but of course they would not be in continuous stretches of live interaction.

“Teachers normally combine interactive sessions with sessions where pupils are working on their own or in groups. The analogy to working on their own or in groups is generally working offline.

“The purpose is to try to replicate a sufficient amount of normal classroom activity to allow pupils to make progress.”

Ian Perry, education convener at the City of Edinburgh Council said: “We’re working hard to make sure that all children can access the resources they need if learning at home. All primary schools offer regular online and live contact with classes. “This can take the form of recorded lessons, live check-ins, live explanations and live teaching. Many parents and carers prefer recorded teaching so that they can access it when it suits, particularly if they have several children on-line at once. It also provides the opportunity to review and play the lesson back again.

“We’re very aware that frequent live contact is important and we’re working with schools to make sure that they have this in place.”

Campaigner Alistair Orr, who teaches brass instruments in Stirling, said there remained difficulties with equipment and in some areas broadband access to ensure live lessons.

“The ability to deliver online music tuition has been fundamental to maintaining contact with our pupils, particularly those preparing assessments for SQA music exams,” he said. “Problems remain, however, in the supply of IT equipment to younger pupils in primary schools. This seems to be more patchy and many children are continuing to use borrowed parental devices”.

Scotland’s biggest local authority, Glasgow City Council, which said there was no standard remote learning approach is currently “collating information” about the new teaching plans for its 140 primary schools, 30 secondary schools and 21 Additional Support for Learning schools.

Ann Davie, deputy chief executive with responsiblity for education at East Dunbartonshire Council said: “The council has provided guidance on remote and blended learning to all schools. This includes guidance on the use of live engagement as part of digital learning.

“All schools then worked to put in place a remote learning programme, which includes digital learning.

“There is a clear process in place for evaluating the quality of the remote learning programme in all schools. The Quality Improvement Team have been working with all schools to evaluate the remote learning programme.

“All schools are providing live engagement with pupils, this may include a live lesson, use of a recorded lesson and engagement with pupils. We are working to share good practice and providing advice to schools. Schools will make changes and adaptations to the provision taking account of feedback from pupils, parents and staff.”

Three of Scotland’s local authorities were unable to directly respond to whether all their schools were offering live daily online teaching at the time of going to press. They were East Lothian, Argyll and Bute, Clackmannanshire and Dumfries and Galloway. Perth and Kinross declined to answer the question directly.

In June we revealed that concerns were raised about the education of Scotland’s children as new analysis revealed two thirds of parents complained their school was not providing any online lessons during the first coronavirus lockdown.

 Two thirds of Scots parents complain about having no online lessons from schools during lockdown

A poll of the experiences of over 2000 parents who gathered in an online webinar organised by the National Parent Forum of Scotland (NPFS) to discuss the issues arising from the lockdown, discovered the majority felt that they were not getting enough support from schools during the lockdown.

Some 62% reported that their school had not provided online lessons, either live or recorded, for children while confined to the house.

The poll found the biggest challenge faced by parents when supporting learning from home was balancing work with supporting the children (48%), motivating kids to learn (23%) and not having enough resources and/or support from the school (12%).

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Scotland’s dedicated teaching professionals plan, organise and deliver learning. They are best placed to make judgements on what constitutes a balance of live learning and independent activity for their pupils.

“Education Scotland has published guidance for schools and local authorities that makes clear the importance of regular high quality interactive learning and teaching as well as an appropriate balance of online learning. It provides a comprehensive set of entitlements for remote learning while it is not possible for all pupils to be in school.

“To help support the provision of remote learning local authorities can also draw on the £45 million package that was announced by the Education Secretary earlier this month.”

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