Until at least mid-February, almost all school pupils in the UK will be required to learn from home as part of the government’s efforts to stave off increasing COVID-19 cases across the country.
The policy means that teachers in primary schools, secondary schools and sixth form colleges will have to conduct lessons with their pupils online, except for three select groups of children who will still be allowed to attend school in-person:
- Those identified as vulnerable
- Children of key workers
- Students who don’t own a laptop or digital device for completing work
If your child is learning from home for the next several weeks, there are lots of ways to make the process easier for everyone at home. Here are some useful tips and tricks to help you with your child get the most out of their education while in lockdown.
1. Get the right equipment for remote learning
Schools will be run online for at least the next several weeks, so every pupil needs a way to participate in lessons and complete their school work from home.
While a smartphone may be sufficient for browsing the internet and keeping in touch with friends, they’re not very practical devices for working, so your child could quickly fall behind without a computer. Therefore, it’s really important to ensure they have access to a laptop, desktop or tablet for school while at home.
If a child doesn’t own their own laptop or tablet and their parent or guardian can’t provide a spare one for them, they will be allowed to attend school in person. The government is also working to provide a free laptop for disadvantaged pupils whose families cannot immediately get one.
Virgin Media has also pledged to donate 1,500 laptops, each with a 4G mobile dongle containing 25GB of free mobile data per month for at least the first two months, to disadvantaged schoolchildren who can't get access to the right learning equipment in lockdown.
Called 'Help for Home Learners' and in partnership with charity Business in the Community, its scheme aims to connect young children to their online classes while schools remain shut. The broadband and TV provider will also soon be rolling out an initiative encouraging members of the public to donate their second-hand laptops or tablets to more children in need of technology for school during the pandemic.
2. Make sure they can get online
In order to virtually attend lessons and access their school’s online resources, your child will need a decent internet connection throughout the day.
It’s really important to have an internet connection that’s fast enough to handle your day-to-day work activities, particularly if you’re also working from home or you have more than one child who needs to join online lessons.
In order to stay connected to lessons throughout the day, your child will need access to a strong enough internet connection to ensure they keep up with each task that is set for them.
If you’re confident your existing broadband connection can handle it, there shouldn’t be any huge issues with your child logging on and virtually attending lessons. However, if you’re worried your broadband is too slow, or you currently don’t have a broadband connection set up, the government is working with providers to make sure every child can get online.
This includes schemes such as BT’s Wi-Fi vouchers initiative, that promises to give children access to its 5.5 million hotspots across the country for school.
And there are many more options available. Here, we’ll walk you through a couple of ways you could get your child online.
If your broadband is taking the strain with children now learning from home, our homeschooling Wi-Fi issues guide will help you find ways to improve your connection.
Tethering your mobile phone
One option could be tethering your child’s laptop or tablet with a mobile phone in the house so they can use mobile data to access the internet. This is effectively where you turn a smartphone into a special Wi-Fi router for other devices, so they can get online without the need for a fixed-line broadband connection.
Of course, this could mean you run out of mobile data quite quickly — after all, tethering can use up a lot of data. So unless you get unlimited data, you might hit the maximum usage for your plan and have to pay for more data to see you through the rest of the month. And as topping up your mobile data can be quite expensive, costs could add up quite quickly.
To combat this, the government is working with many of the biggest mobile network operators in the UK to provide free mobile data for schoolchildren whose households don’t have home broadband and can’t afford extra data.
4G wireless routers
The government also plans to send out 4G wireless routers to households that won’t be able to use mobile devices to get online.
This is especially handy for families with more than one school-age child, as many devices will be able to connect to the 4G hub. This works just like a Wi-Fi router but doesn’t need a broadband connection to operate.
Free Hyperoptic broadband
Hyperoptic, one of the UK's largest fibre broadband providers, is offering a free broadband connection to disadvantaged families in response to the latest national lockdown.
Ofcom has said that over 880,000 UK children currently live in homes with only a mobile internet connection, so Hyperoptic's efforts are focused on helping these children get connected for school. Households covered by its network that have school-age children but don't have a fixed broadband connection will be able to apply for free superfast fibre internet to get them online and attending lessons while schools remain shut.
It will remain completely free until the end of the 2021 school summer term, so will still be completely accessible even after schools are estimated to open back up again.
To be eligible for Hyperoptic's free 50Mbps fibre connection, you must:
- Be living in an area or property covered by Hyperoptic's network
- Have at least one school-age child living with you
- Currently have no fixed-line broadband connection in the home or can't rely on your existing broadband package (too slow for your household's demand)
Contact your local authority to see if your property can access Hyperoptic's broadband network.
Vodafone donating 10,000 dongles
UK broadband and mobile network provider Vodafone has pledged to donate 10,000 dongle devices through charity Business2Schools, in order to aid children who can't get connected at home for online lessons and catch-up classes as they return to schools from 8 March.
Business2Schools will distribute the dongles to schools that received a proportion of Vodafone's 350,000 SIM cards in a previous donation drive, which students can then pair together for an extra point of connectivity at home that won't strain the rest of the family's internet connection.
It has also made a £200,000 donation to the Raspberry Pi Foundation to purchase 500 laptops for disadvantaged school children who can't get access to the right learning equipment outside of the classroom.
3. Check your broadband speed
If you’re already using home broadband, it’d be useful to make sure your child’s remote learning won’t put too much of a strain on your connection, particularly if you’re also working from home. Here are some things you can do to make sure everyone in your house can stay connected throughout the day:
Run a broadband speed test
When you signed up for your broadband deal, you probably signed up for a specific speed in megabits per second (Mbps). Unless you already know exactly what that number is, taking a broadband speed test will help you understand how much your connection can handle.
If the speed measured consistently results in around 10Mbps, you’re likely on a copper-based broadband connection and your child may experience trouble staying connected all day. This is because the bandwidth you get with this type of connection might not be able to handle tasks such as attending online lessons, particularly if there are several other connected devices in your home. You could also be experiencing slow speeds because of some connection issues, so read on for tips on how to improve your broadband speed at home a bit further down.
In most cases, a superfast fibre connection with speeds that range between 30-70Mbps would be plenty for your child to stay online. So if the test returns these results, your child shouldn’t run into any problems.
Other fibre connections can run into the hundreds of Mbps, sometimes all the way up to 1000Mbps (or 1Gbps). If you have those speeds, you’ll likely know about it already and will already have access to the fastest speeds available.
If you’re not confident your broadband speed will be able to handle your child’s remote schooling, you might be eligible to switch to a faster broadband package, some of which may be a similar price to what you’re already paying.
Compare broadband deals with Uswitch to find faster broadband options in your area.
Fix internet connection problems
Sometimes you might already be paying for a fast broadband deal but you’re still getting slow speeds. This may be because you have some internet connection issues in the home, such as a problem with your Wi-Fi router, that may be easily fixable.
Here are our five quick fixes for problems with your router:
- Reboot it: First things first, it’s always a good idea to try the very familiar ‘turn it off and on again’ technique. Just make sure you leave it off for 30 seconds before reconnecting.
- Move to a central, open location: While routers aren’t very pretty, they need to be free of any physical obstructions to work properly, so don’t keep it hidden away in a cupboard. Instead, make sure it’s somewhere quite central in your home
- Disconnect unnecessary devices: Turn off the Wi-Fi connection on any devices in the home you don’t use or need — they might be using up precious bandwidth.
- Take a speed test: This will help determine if the above fixes worked for you.
- Look into Wi-Fi extenders/boosters: Your router’s signal might not be strong enough to reach every room in the house, so these will help with any ‘not-spots’.
If issues still persist, or you think Wi-Fi extenders won’t resolve your issue, it’s best to contact your provider to report it as a fault. They will then take the necessary steps to ensure you get the connection you’re paying for.
4. Create a comfortable working environment
Quite understandably, your home likely wasn’t built to host lessons for schoolchildren, so there might be a bit of re-organising needed to ensure your child can spend the day in their virtual class comfortably, distraction-free.
If your child uses a portable device like a laptop or tablet to access online school, it might seem fine for them to stay on a comfy sofa all day. However, lounging on a couch in the living room, where family members could be walking in and out of all day, might not be the best environment to keep them attentive and productive. Sitting at a desk or even a dining room table can be better for their productivity and their posture.
If possible, you’ll want to give them a room to themselves where the house is a little quieter, so they can focus on their work throughout the day — perhaps you could set up a work space in the dining room or their bedroom. Some headphones for the lessons and a notebook and some pens would also be very useful. Feel free to let them move about and sit in other places at times though, because a change of scenery can go a long way and keep the day fresh.
Of course, not everyone has the space to make this work, so don’t worry too much if you can’t set up a dedicated workspace for your kids. As long as you limit any distractions you can and make sure your child stays well hydrated throughout the day, you’ll be doing more than enough in this lockdown.
5. Show them helpful learning tools
Your child’s school should have provided a list of all the necessary programs and resources needed to access its lessons. These are the essential tools your child will need to access the standard of education expected during lockdown. However, there are many more places your child could be learning outside their lessons and assigned homework, both online and on TV, while they’re at home.
The BBC has ramped-up its online learning tools and educational programming to bolster children’s education over the next several weeks.
Every weekday, CBBC will be hosting three hours of primary school programming, and BBC Two will broadcast two hours of secondary school content. These programmes will also be available on BBC iPlayer and the Red Button.
Online, BBC Bitesize has been a staple for children’s education for years. It provides a wealth of learning resources that very closely match the general curriculum, so your child will certainly find useful information there.
While YouTube may already be a frequent destination for your child outside of school, its educational content knows no bounds. You might have to do some digging yourself or ask a teacher to help you find the relevant content for your child, but there are entire channels dedicated to teaching children important topics in a fun, engaging, visual way.
The BBC has suggested Free School, which describes itself as a “safe and friendly place to expose children to famous art, classical music, children's literature, and natural science in an age-appropriate and kid-accessible way”
And for young primary school children and their parents, YouTube Kids is a safe, secure platform that hosts lots of educational content for those just starting school.
Free and discounted home learning with Vodafone
Through its VeryMe Rewards on the My Vodafone app, Vodafone customers have been granted free or discounted access to a number of online learning platforms during lockdown.
Young primary school children can benefit from three months' free use of Azoomee, which hosts hundreds of educational videos and TV shows to help your child through the day while schools remain shut. Kids aged three to seven can also enjoy free access to MarcoPolo World School, a learning app with over 3,000 interactive educational games, which is offering a 60-day free trial through Vodafone.
For older children, SchoolOnline is running a 33% discount on subscriptions to its KS2 and GCSE home learning materials, which provide very useful additional information and topics to your child's school curriculum.
Finally, adults planning to learn a new pastime or master a skill while in lockdown can enjoy 76% off New Skills Academy, which hosts over 750 adult learning courses including British Sign Language, floristry or teaching assistant qualifications.
6. Balance your life with theirs
While it’s incredibly important that your child still gets the education they need from home, you’ll need to make sure that you don’t let equally important things in your own life slip by.
It is first and foremost the school’s job to find ways to engage its pupils remotely, so you shouldn’t feel the obligation to spend all day making sure your child is doing the best they can. You understandably may have to sacrifice some time to help them, but not to the extent that it puts you behind on other responsibilities like your job, other family members and — very importantly — rest.
Many employers are allowing staff who are parents or guardians some flexible time in the week to tend to their children while schools are closed. So if you’re worried about pressures from work affecting your child’s performance at home, make sure to inform your manager or HR team of your situation. Many of your colleagues are sure to be going through the same thing.
7. Keep tabs on what the government is saying
With advice and restrictions changing so regularly of late, it’s very important to keep up-to-date with the latest guidance the government communicates, in case some of it is relevant to you and your child during this third lockdown.
Gov.uk’s ‘Education and childcare’ part of its coronavirus guidance will have all the recent information you’ll need to know as a parent, so be sure to visit that page for more detail.
Keep an eye on the news each day for upcoming changes or additions to government advice, so you can prepare for any new announcements.
Most of all — don’t worry. Millions of children are currently going through the same process. Schools are doing their best to make sure every child still has access to a good education, and that includes changing the way they’ll be examined this year to fairly account for any lost time in education. Anything you do will only be a bonus, and that’s certainly enough for now.