Primary school’s unorthodox approach to home learning leaves positive legacy

This story was published 23 February 2021

A more child centred approach which might appear unorthodox, has been helping a North Yorkshire primary school, its pupils and their families, continue to cope with the demands of home schooling.

Matthew Kelly

Hutton Rudby primary school is looking forward to welcoming children back to the classroom next month but has found that a more relaxed approach to home schooling by removing deadlines and enabling youngsters to influence their own pace of learning, has helped everybody to pull through this challenging period. 

While some might expect schools to exert tighter control over children’s workloads while they are away from the classroom, Hutton Rudby Primary School has taken the opposite approach by letting children have more control over their own learning.  This has proved successful with both children and the adults supervising them.

The school has left more challenging new topics to be covered for when normal classes return in March, helping children and families feel more relaxed and lessening anxiety about the work they have had to do during lockdown.

While the school has found the use of online teaching methods such as maths.co.uk, Zoom, Class Dojo and the School website beneficial, head teacher Matthew Kelly said: “We’ve found that letting the children decide which bits they do has helped with engagement.”

The school’s approach to ‘handing in’ work may also sound unusual, by removing deadlines, but this too has been found to work.

“We’ve had days when children have sent lots of work that has been completed over the course of a few days, and days when not so much is sent at all.”

Matthew Kelly said: “I think that not demanding the work back by a specific deadline (or at all) gives the children more ownership over what they are doing and when they do it.” 

The flexible approach to deadlines was also adopted to help parents, as it means they have better control over their own commitments such as juggling work with home education – with the ability to upload or send in work when the opportunity is available. That can mean parents submit several items at once but any burden that creates for the school is offset by the knowledge that it has helped to reduce  stress in pupils’ homes.

Matthew Kelly said: “It has been critically important that we listen and work with all our parents. As a parent myself, I know how difficult the balancing act of home-schooling and working from home has been for many of our parents.”

Understanding the needs of the children and working flexibly with parents is essential to create an effective home-learning provision.

“Giving the children work they can complete independently has also helped with this,” said Matthew Kelly.

“This might mean that we are spending time going over stuff that has been previously taught at times rather than broaching difficult new topics, to make sure the children can access the work.” That means the more challenging new topics can be covered when schools return to normal classes.

Live lessons have also proved successful, but the length of each has been capped at 30 minutes and each starts with a strong focus on children seeing their classmates – helping to address the isolation of the coronavirus lockdown.  Depending on the age of pupils, they have between one and three lessons each day. “The parents have loved it and the staff, who have continued to amaze me each day, have actually enjoyed doing it. Having undertaken a parent survey of our home-learning provision, teachers are also making one to one zoom calls with those children and parents who need it the most at home.”

Meticulous planning has also helped ensure success, with sessions organised carefully to avoid clashes between siblings. That approach has also helped with sharing devices. Live lessons are also uploaded on the school website so they can be revisited later.

This supplements the pre-recorded lessons teachers have created themselves, tailored specifically to the needs of the children at Hutton Rudby. This blended approach of home-learning has meant that engagement in home-learning throughout the current lockdown has been 98%.

“Regarding feedback, it is all about positivity for us,” Matthew Kelly said.

“Parents are not teachers and many who are helping at home do not need to be criticised via teacher feedback in a negative way. We acknowledge what children do and we go for the positives. Working together for the children is always the most important thing.”