Home schooling? To pay fees or not? How to manage family life with everyone at home? School choices? State or independent? What about life after non-existent exam results?
Read on as our education consultants tackle your queries.
Q: We have a full home-schooling programme from our sons’ primary school. To some extent, my wife and I can handle this and we have a shot at all the lessons and activities. The problem is that although our sons understand the situation and the need to keep up a routine of work and play, they don’t really take us seriously as teachers and we ourselves feel confused by this change in our roles. Can you offer any advice?
A: Of course it’s confusing – for you and your sons. All routines are up in the air and no-one is doing the things they normally do. I think the answer is not to expect too much – either of your sons or of yourselves. In the end, you are parents and not teachers and, while you may have to teach them for a few weeks or months, you will be their parents for the rest of your lives. Remember that many children – either through illness or for other reasons – often miss a sizeable proportion of their schooling and they still manage to catch up and succeed in the inevitable exams. It’s not as though your boys will be falling behind because of absence – other parents will also be struggling to fulfil the teaching programmes set by schools – and your boys sound more tractable than many. Try to keep to a routine – perhaps one you can negotiate and agree with the boys; build in free time – for them and for you, including work time and homework time. It may be hard, but try not to let the routine become a source of confrontation and conflict. You are parents – not tyrants – and whether or not your sons complete each assignment matters far less than harmony in a home you are all compelled – for the time being – to inhabit full time!
School fees for GCSE students
Q: What guidance or advice can you offer on how to approach schools on the subject of fees for students leaving in their GCSE exam year? In this situation, students are not sitting exams so are only having one week of remote teaching or revision after the Easter holidays. There will be no invigilators to pay for or leaving dinners etc. Parents have been offered 10 per cent reduction for the summer term’s fees regardless of year group which many parents believe is unfair.
A: This is a legitimate question. For pupils in exam years and for whom the summer term is normally revision classes and exams, the online programmes set up by schools may not be relevant. This applies particularly, as you say, to pupils who are leaving their school at the end of the academic year. We feel this is an exception to the advice we give elsewhere i.e. to bear with the school and take advantage of all the support on offer. Parents of children not taking the planned GCSE and A levels and who are not being offered any kind of substitute programme have, we feel, a reasonable case for a more substantial remission of fees than 10 per cent. Contact your school – preferably as a group of equally affected parents – and make the case, ideally in a spirit of cooperation. Remember that the school will have many continuing expenses and will not have been able to budget for these circumstances in advance. Remember also that, while some schools are rich, most are not and some will go to the wall during this crisis. However, you do have a legitimate case for a bigger reduction than parents of children in other years and the school should recognise this.
Choosing between state and private school
Q: My daughter has had offers from state and independent schools for Reception and I am wondering how to choose...?
A: A happy position to be in! The first factor has to be money. If you like the independent school and it’s close to home and if the fees are manageable, the chances are there'll be fewer children in each class and the learning may well proceed more quickly. If, however, the money is a stretch for you, if the state school is equally near home and you like it, why not go for that? Our rule of thumb is usually that the school nearest home, at this early stage of a child’s education, is worth a lot – a short journey to school, local friends, the sense of a community and so on. At this age security, a manageable family life and learning to work and play with as many different people as possible are just as important as the type of school. A less beautiful classroom, a less well-maintained school site and a larger class – so long as the school is safe, the staff turnover is stable, the classroom is orderly and the leadership is solid and approachable – is fine for most children. Plenty of time to shell out for education later on if you can and want to.
Finally, if you feel that the judgement of others might help, you can always seek the views of parents at each school, look at Ofsted and ISI reports (Ofsted also has a data dashboard which can be more up-to-date than actual reports) and, of course, The Good Schools Guide reviews – where relevant.
What’s next after non-GCSEs?
Q: My child has been cast adrift by school after non-GCSEs and doesn’t expect to get grades to go into sixth form - what on earth can we do?
A: Lots! Most schools will only take children into their sixth forms if they get a certain number of passes at GCSE, usually grade 6 or above (higher in subjects to be taken at A level). This year, of course, they will not be assessed by a final exam which for some may well not deliver the same result as if they had taken the exams. Many parents find it hard to accept that a traditional academic path is not right for their child, but if you can switch your mindset you may see a change of direction as an opportunity. Your local sixth form college or FE college may well offer a range of courses available to anyone of the right age who can demonstrate having had at least a reasonable academic record during years 10 and 11. In addition to the chance to re-take vital GCSEs such as English language and maths, these colleges also provide vocational post-GCSE programmes such as BTecs. At many such colleges you can mix and match courses in ways that most schools cannot and entry requirements may be lower. You could also consider Modern Apprenticeships – see: https://www.goodschoolsguide.co.uk/careers for helpful advice and links on an enormous range of opportunities where you can learn on the job and get paid to do so. Now is the time for your child to do the homework and check out the many different pathways from beyond year 11.
Do we have to pay even though we can’t afford school fees now?
Q: We accepted a place for September at our local independent school for my son who is just coming up to five. However, our business has collapsed because of the shut-down and we may well become insolvent after paying off our staff, debts etc – notwithstanding possible government help. We don’t have an alternative state school place. What can we do? Do we still have to pay the autumn term fees?
A: What a sad story – we send our commiserations and hope that you can pick up your business again soon. You need to look at your contract with the independent school. Probably a term’s notice - and there is still time for that – will suffice if you need to withdraw your child and you should not be liable for the fees. On the other hand, if you are optimistic that you may be in a better financial position in the autumn, it may well be worth making an appointment with the bursar of the school and discussing how they can help. In the meantime you should certainly contact your local authority and apply for an in-year place for your son. You may not have much choice at this stage and there will be other parents in the same position so much will depend on whereabouts in the country you are and the popularity of schools near you. Do contact us at: [email protected] or 0203 286 6824 if you need help.
ASD and socialisation
Q: My son is borderline autistic – high functioning. He is 10 years old. We were just getting somewhere with his socialisation at school – he was beginning to make friends and even inviting classmates home and now we are all confined to base and he is becoming more withdrawn than ever.
A: So many parents have additional concerns on top of those we all share and this is such a good example. ASD children will find many extra challenges in the current situation and the lack of routine will be one factor. Routine is important for everyone in this situation, but you will need to establish a routine that increases your son’s sense of security and faith in matters being under control. You will probably find many online resources to keep his brain occupied but socialisation is a different question. He may be anxious and will need to understand why he is not going to school or able to see his friends. Perhaps you can use social media – with or without cameras – to enable him to talk to his friends. WhatsApp, FaceTime, Skype, Zoom and House Party allow for face-to-face virtual encounters which, once he is accustomed to them, he may well enjoy. This way he can still see family and friends and even, perhaps, learn to play online games or share learning programmes with them. Interactive exercise programmes may be a particularly good way to start this. The Special Needs Jungle publishes a helpful list of resources here.
The humble telephone can also find a place in this new world if he prefers not to see people. Perhaps he can write emails or send texts to grandparents or friends. He can share jokes or clips he has enjoyed. Try to encourage any use of IT that is two-way i.e. not just playing games against himself. He could even write letters to grandparents or other family members and illustrate them if he enjoys doing that. This also reminds him of those people to whom he is connected and their involvement in his life. The National Autistic Society and other support groups have links to other resources and our highly experienced SEN team are here to help you if you have additional concerns: [email protected] or 0203 286 6824.
Finally – no-one is going to handle this situation perfectly. Whether you are at home with your first baby or with a clutch of teenagers, it will be a hit and miss process and you won’t get it all right. Remember you are primarily a parent and one who didn’t sign up for being a full-time teacher, crowd controller, nurse, cook, police officer, cleaner, administrator and mediator as well. Be kind to yourself and don’t set unreachable goals. One day, they’ll all be back at school and you might even miss them!
Do you want help from The Good Schools Guide Education Consultants?
Our expert education consultants can provide your family with one-to-one help on all of the issues raised in this article and many more. If you would like to find out more about our services, visit the Education Consultants homepage or to speak directly with one of the team email [email protected] or call 0203 286 6824