Northern Ireland news

Parents' views sought on experience of remote schooling

Lead researcher Dr Una O'Connor Bones

PARENTS of children in special schools are being asked about their perspectives and experiences of supporting learning at home during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The study is being undertaken by researchers from the Unesco Centre at Ulster University's School of Education.

Most special schools have remained closed since mid-March.

Department of Education guidance says they should be open as those who attend have statements of special educational need and "they fall within the definition of vulnerable children".

They "should continue to work in partnership with parents and/or legal guardians to ensure that the best interests of children take precedence".

There are 40 special schools across the north educating about 6,000 children. It is understood as few as five have been open - although there may not be any pupils attending those.

A group of 10 special schools in Belfast voluntarily closed ahead of the blanket lockdown. They explained this was to minimise the risk of infection and to keep children safe.

The assembly education committee was told they remained shut down due to a lack of demand from parents and concerns over social distancing.

The research team at UU said the Covid-19 virus had changed life in many ways, including the closing of schools. This meant that many parents were helping their child to learn at home.

As well as a special school survey - there are separate questionnaires for those whose children are in primary or post-primary education.

The study will explore how parents and guardians are guiding learning, and the support they receive from schools and teaching staff in doing so.

Connections with the wider community are also taken into account by considering how parents interact with other parents during this time and the online resources, videos and activities provided by organisations including libraries and museums.

There are concerns that many children's needs cannot be met at home. The special school survey asks specific questions about the classroom support offered in-school. This can include behaviour support, occupational therapy, hydrotherapy and sensory support.

It also asks how confident parents are in supervising their child's learning.

"The rapid transition to remote learning for children attending schools at all levels has no doubt been challenging for parents, guardians, pupils and teachers," said lead researcher Dr Una O'Connor Bones.

"This research project aims to provide a better understanding of parents' experiences for those working in education and government policy across Northern Ireland and further afield. We will explore the experiences of parents in supporting their child to learn from home to understand what resources, support and communications exist between schools, pupils and parents during this period and to highlight the challenges and the benefits reported by parents in supporting their children's learning at this time."

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