Virtual learning: In the words of Brent’s teachers, parents and students

St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Primary School pupils learning

A pupil at St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Primary School. - Credit: St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Primary School

Headteachers, parents and pupils in Brent have spoken of their frustration with virtual teaching and learning, which is "stressful" and "tedious".

As part of the third national lockdown, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced schools would remain closed and continue virtual learning until at least March, although children of key workers and those deemed vulnerable are still able to attend.

Newman Catholic College (NCC) headteacher Daniel Coyle explained his school accommodates around 55 children in these categories, while another 800 pupils are taught virtually at home.

Mr Coyle said: “We are desperate to get back to school. Teaching is at heart a human activity and is rooted in the quality of our human relationships. Remote teaching does not support this principle.”

He continued: “However, the health of our nation must come first. If we have to maintain this provision until Easter, then teachers will continue to do their best.”

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A year-11 student at NCC, Dillon Donnelly, explained how virtual learning can be “tedious” and “stressful” for students.

Dillon, 15, said: “We've got GCSEs coming up so going back virtually has put a lot more pressure onto us, students need to do better than they ever would in class, because that's probably how they're going to be assessed.”

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It was announced in January that all GCSE and A-Levels exams would be cancelled and students’ grades based on teacher’s assessment.

However, Dillion said that online learning has vastly improved since the first lockdown and has provided more technological ways to learn.

He is still able to participate in extra-curricular activities like student council and London Citizens, which is leading a #dontzapthezip campaign against the removal of free transport for under-18s.

Schools have also had to tackle the digital divide by sourcing laptops and wi-fi boosters for children who do not have access to this at home; Dillion and his brother in Year 9 were among the 300 students at NCC to receive laptops.

Headmistress at St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Primary School in Willesden, Dawn Titus, said other challenges families are facing during the pandemic include low income and employment instability.

Ms Titus said: “The national lockdowns have added to the pressures of family life with the new expectation that parents have to play a more significant role in leading their children’s educational experience.”

She continued: “Our expectations for them are still limitless as we know every child has the potential to make a significant impact in their communities and in the wider world and they will continue to thrive.”

St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Primary School pupil

A pupil at St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Primary School. - Credit: St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Primary School

A primary school parent based in Kingsbury, Sanjana Karnani, explained the difficulties her daughter Deeva faced with 11-plus exam delays and her father becoming critically ill with Covid-19 over Christmas.

However, she praised her daughter’s school, Holland House, for doing an “exceptionally good job” remote teaching their 140 children since March.

Sanjana said: “Education is one thing, but I think the key thing is mental wellbeing and that's what the schools are giving to the children because they need a distraction.”

Another parent of an A-level student based in north Brent, Hema Mistry, said there are pressures on parents to ensure their child is attending class, turning in assessments and getting physical activity when they are working remotely.

As an NHS worker, her child qualifies to study at school, but as she works remotely she chooses to give the space to parents who are front-facing key workers.

Hema said: “I see how terrible it is, they are under so much pressure and we need to do our bit to support them and help them.”

Alongside virtual learning, schools like St Joseph’s and NCC are working with charities and food banks to ensure families do not go hungry during this time.

Mr Coyle said: “The last 11 months has shown us not just what a fabulously important job it is but also what a transformative job it is in developing young people and keeping the country going."

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