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Podding: Why this new homeschooling trend could be a lifeline for working parents in ‘COVID times’

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‘Podding up’ is a phenomenon that has taken on quickly with working parents and children in these uncertain times of local lockdowns and job insecurity. Podding is a direct response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on working families and their children’s homeschooling – or lack of it.

Back in July figures in the UK were showing that just 71 per cent of state school children were getting, at most, one daily online lesson. Yet 31 per cent of independent school pupils get at least four a day. According to The Sutton Trust, only 19 per cent of pupils from state primaries and 22 per cent of state secondaries had taken part in the daily online tuition.

But privately educated pupils are twice as likely to access online tuition as state school peers. Sir Peter Lampl, The Sutton Trust’s chairman, was quoted at the time: “Many private schools already had access to online platforms before lockdown.”

If you are a parent and haven’t ‘podded up’ yet, then you might want to put the feelers out to other parents. If they are on the same page or having similar concerns, then you may want to look into starting your own parenting pod as a backup plan- according to those that are taking up the cause, it could save your job and sanity plus educate your children all at the same time.   

What is it?

Parent podding brings families together whereby a small group of students, ideally in the same school year or class, come together so that they may learn together rather than alone.

The concept can save working parents from giving up their ability to work while ensuring their kids are still receiving an education because the homeschooling is shared with other parents. It’s not all on you. This concept is also working well with parents of children that have serious reservations about sending their children back to school if COVID case numbers are rising in their area or if their children have not been able to return to school for mental health, behavioural or other non-infectious health reasons.

Podding, in a sense, is something that existing homeschooling families have been doing before the pandemic hit to encourage socialising with other children, to enhance group discussions, and to have a support network when someone needed a helping hand due to a family sickness or unexpected work obligations.

Forming your pod

The phenomenon has already taken the US by storm due to late school reopenings and rising COVID cases. Some may liken parent podding to a playdate or study group with educational and social benefits.

The UK has many homeschooling sites to go to for insights so that you can be inspired to set up your own local Facebook group or simply set up a Whatsapp group to start.

Parents share the responsibility of volunteering their time and specialist knowledge by keeping to the school curriculum or by creating bespoke lessons that may cater to the pod’s interests and abilities. Parents must be honest about their working constraints, so expectations are met. Some parents may be more active than others on the homeschooling front, so other creative ways of contributing should be discussed so the responsibility does not fall on just one or two parents unless they are happy with that.

What is paramount, however, is that each homeschooling parent sets out realistic goals and expectations of their skill set and those of the children they may be guiding through school-assigned exercises. Putting fun exercises into lessons is always a plus, so children are incentivised to attend and interact with others in the group. Planning a lesson or activity ahead is also wise so you can keep children engaged and actively learning. If children seem restless take the learning activity outside when possible.

Rule of 6

Given the UK’s current group of 6 rule, families may have to break up into several groups on any one day, so the more families on board, the better, to not only spread the responsibility of volunteering parents hosting and conducting classes in their homes, back gardens or safe, outdoor public spaces but to also limit potential exposure to COVID-19. On those days when one of the ‘podsters’ is not able to attend in-person perhaps the session can be sent live via Teams or Zoom so they do not feel left out.

When families are not allowed to mix with other families due to localised lockdowns or a family member having COVID symptoms, then the onus is down to each household to ensure children are either sitting down to a school day of virtual lessons set out and presented each day by their teachers, which seems only to be the case for independent and private schools. Or if they are enrolled in a state school, your children will have to attempt to understand lessons and exercises through a combination of online paid and unpaid classes while you try to get your work done and conduct Zoom or Team meetings in another part of the house.

Tutors for backup?

Online tutors are also an option, but they do not come cheap and if you do not have your eye on the ball -literally – your child could just be sitting on the other side of the screen, without being engaged by the tutor, with your hard-earned cash wasted. Tutors must be held accountable and not all are made for virtual learning.

When public health allows, homeschooling pod families may want to chip in and find a tutor that does small groups, in-person or online. This may be particularly helpful for GCSE and A-Level students when the school of Mum and Dad is falling short on understanding subjects such as Maths, Chemistry or a foreign language.

If you would like to tackle topics that are not just in the curriculum, but may provide a more worldly approach to education, pods can turn to online resources, such as Ted Talk’s education channel.

Social mobility

School closures could have a significant impact on social mobility for the ‘COVID generation’ unless significant efforts are made to address the impact on learning, according to new research by London Economics for the Sutton Trust.  If schools do close again or if more parents have come to the conclusion that their children are progressing better in a homeschooling environment, podding could prove popular across all socioeconomic groups.

The government’s ‘online school, Oak National Academy, could be more inspiring for their target audience, but it is a source for parents to turn to. The Academy is preparing to record 10,000 lessons in July. The Government is spending £4.3m to provide an online learning “back-up” during the coming academic year and 202,000 free laptops have been given to poorer families so that their children can use them for education.

The Sutton Trust’s sister charity, the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), is delivering the £76m Tuition Partners pilar of the National Tutoring Programme. Through this initiative, schools will be able to access heavily subsidised tutoring from an approved list of Tuition Partners from November.  

So, you want to get into Edtech or Online tutoring?

If you are already working in the education sector or have a driving passion to join your existing skills and experience to the sector in a new and dynamic way, then start to do your homework because things are evolving.

In addition to going on job boards, such as Edsurge.com, you may want to familiarise yourself with established Edtech companies that have raised considerable startup capital in recent years, recently raised capital this year and mention ‘growth’ or ‘expansion’ in new markets or product lines.

You can easily find this information by reading company press releases, company blogs in addition to news story searches. By doing learning more about the sector you can start to see some trends emerge or even content, revenue model or IT infrastructure gaps where your skills may be attractive to an Edtech startup.

Here are a few Edtechs to look into to start:

  • Guild Education (US-based but has remote positions). Check out this interview with the company’s co-founder, Rachel Romer Carlson.
  • Kano Computing is an international computer company that also provides education and training to the school sector. They are hiring in the US and UK.
  • Memrise is a language learning site and app that caters to students, business people and anyone who wants to learn another language fast. It looks like an amazing place to work, too. Check out this video.
  • Cognassist, a Newcastle-based company with operations across the UK that provides online assessment to quickly and easily identifying learners with additional learning needs, assessing those needs and providing a robust report evidencing those needs for the education and corporate sector. While they prefer to hire for permanent positions, they also hire contractors and freelancers.
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