How England is following Denmark’s school safety model

Primary schools in England could reopen from 1 June – and the safety approach closely follows Denmark’s example, where schools opened last month. This assumes that social distancing will be unreliable with young children, so instead children stay in small groups all day, in “protective bubbles”.

Re-opening schools is going to be one of the biggest symbolic steps towards loosening the lockdown.

It has divided opinion about whether it can be safe – and who should go back first.

But there are places, such as Denmark and Germany, where it’s already happened.

“There was anxiety in the community,” says Dom Maher, head of the international section of St Josef’s school in Roskilde, on the Danish island of Zealand.

“A large percentage of parents were in two minds,” he says. “And there were some who decided to wait a few days to see.”

But several three weeks after re-opening, he thinks it has worked better than might have been expected.

Children were relieved to be back and parents have become more confident about safety – and numbers attending schools have steadily risen.

Primary school children have returned first in Denmark, and a system is in place to keep children in small groups and with as little contact with others as possible. They spend their school day in a kind of virtual cocoon, with no cross-over with others.

These micro-groups of pupils arrive at a separate time, eat their lunch separately, stay in their own zones in the playground and are taught by one teacher.

There are about a dozen pupils in these groups. Social distancing means that’s about the maximum number who can go into one room, which requires dividing classes and teaching staff.

Realistic aims

“Most schools in Denmark are structured where you have primary and lower secondary in the same school,” says Mr Maher. That means there is space to spread out, with only about half of the usual thousand pupils on site.

“We’ve had enough classrooms to do that – if school opening went ahead where all students were back, it would be a real struggle,” says the head.

“We wouldn’t have enough classrooms and would have to start doing morning and afternoon shifts.”

The other lynchpin of the Danish approach is a huge amount of hand washing and sterilising.

“There is pretty much hourly washing going on,” says, Mr Maher, so much so that the new problem is skin irritation and eczema.

But he says the idea of perfect social distancing with small children is not realistic.

“Most of them are pretty good with it and mindful of space. But they do forget,” he says.

There are no face masks – either for pupils or teachers.

Dorte Lange, vice president of the Danish Union of Teachers, says this lack of personal protection hasn’t been an issue, because the medical advice has focused on the strategy of keeping pupils distanced, in isolated groups, and a strong emphasis on hygiene.

“We are glad to say the re-opening up to now has been quite successful,” the union leader told the BBC.

Teachers who have health issues, or who have family members who might be at risk, can teach online from home, she says.

Some of the Danish and German ideas:

But she suggests the mood has shifted towards wanting to get children into school again.

“We can see many of the older students are not thriving at home. They really need to be back in the community of the school,” she says.

There has been a collective approach to re-opening between teachers’ unions, local authorities and government, says Ms Lange.

If a further opening of schools were to increase the rate of infection, she says there would have to be a change of plan.

“But if they say it’s safe to open for older kids, we’ll make it possible.”

Parental fears

There are still worries among parents, including a Facebook page with worries about not treating children as “guinea pigs”.

Sirin posted to say she has kept her four-year-old at home despite the re-opening, but her daughter “asks me every day when she’s going to kindergarten again and that she misses her friends so much”.

“So I thought about sending them off in about two weeks – since I don’t think this virus will be gone for a long time and I have to start working at some point.”

Another mother says she feels pressured into sending her child into school. “I’m not comfortable with it. And I have my grandma who’s on vacation with us.”

On Copenhagen’s waterfront there is a one-way sign into a school, indicating the highly-structured nature of the Covid-19-shaped school day.

Ida Storm Jansen, an administrator in Copenhagen International School, says about 10 students are allowed per classroom. It’s an international school but all such schools have to follow their countries’ health advice.

“I had a great conversation with a four year old. He said we used to sit on the carpet and now we sit on the tape marks,” she says.

The system of isolating these small groups of children is more practical than only relying on social distancing, she suggests.

“Frankly it’s impossible. When they play, of course they forget,” she says.

But with constant hand washing and minimal contact with any other group, she says there is an effective system – and children have adapted to it very quickly.

Ms Jansen says fears of a “big backlash from parents” over re-opening didn’t materialise – and children were relieved to be back with their friends.

No ‘business as usual’

When some schools opened in Germany last month, the detail of planning went down to individual seating plans.

Shaun Roberts, principal of the Cologne International School, says there is a fixed place for each student – so that if someone is found with the virus, the contact tracers will know exactly who was sitting nearest.

In Germany, it’s the oldest year groups which have gone back first. The top class is revising for the Abitur, the German equivalent of A-levels, which have not been cancelled.

Exam halls are one of the few locations which lend themselves to social distancing.

There is a one-way system in the corridors to minimise contact, break times are staggered, there is a strict cleaning regime – and face masks are worn in common areas.

“People do what they have to do without making a fuss,” says Mr Roberts. But it isn’t “business as usual”.

The school days are shorter and mixed with online lessons, so different year groups can share classrooms which might now only hold 10 pupils.

And there are staff and pupils who are staying at home because of their health issues or because of concerns about someone in their family.

“The great unspoken”, he says is that schools might have re-opened, but there are limits to what can be provided.

France and The Netherlands will be the next to open schools next week – with strong opinions for and against returning. And plans for schools in the UK will become clearer in the next few days.

Mr Roberts in Cologne describes it as a “journey back to normality”, which will continue long beyond the summer break and into the autumn.

It might only be beginning – but he says, it has to start somewhere.

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How do schools double classes with no extra rooms?

Here’s a practical maths conundrum, rather than a political question, about the plan to reopen schools in England.

And as a spoiler – the Department for Education says it will need to issue new guidance to sort it out.

The government announced that to keep children and teachers safe there should be no more than 15 pupils per class – so in effect, every class of 30 would have to be spread over two classrooms.

This might work for the phased return of the first few year groups. But the government is also aiming, if the safety advice permits, for all primary year groups to be back in school for a month before the end of term.

The complication is that if each class is occupying two or more classrooms, how could all the year groups be back full time at the same time? There wouldn’t be enough classrooms or teachers.

Geoff Barton, leader of the ASCL head teachers’ union, says the sums don’t add up: “It seems to us a non-starter.”

“It is impossible to reconcile this ambition with the current guidance about limiting class sizes to 15 and keeping groups in ‘bubbles’ to reduce mixing,” says Mr Barton.

It’s an example of how the plan to reopen schools is being road-tested against reality – before the final decision is taken, on or before 28 May, on whether to go ahead with reopening schools.

A Department for Education spokesman says new safety guidance will be provided if it’s decided all primary pupils are going back: “We’ll revisit the advice when the science indicates it is safe to invite more children back to schools and colleges.”

Primary schools are going to have to be adapted in many other ways.

They’re designed to be welcoming, family-friendly places, with lots of shared play areas. But now they will need a safety-first environment.

It’s goodbye to the soft toys and anything which might be hard to clean and might spread infection. Instead there will be marked out spaces, gaps between desks, one-way systems and a routine of frequent hand washing.

There’s a big encouragement on fresh air and ventilation – with the safety guidance urging outdoor classes where possible and doors and windows to be kept open.

Anything that can be touched will have to be frequently cleaned – light switches, books, tables, chairs, bannisters.

Bringing books or anything else between school and home is discouraged – and in school there shouldn’t be a sharing of pencil and paper, and libraries will be closed.

But it’s not about masks or social distancing – with the guidelines accepting that a two-metre exclusion zone is not realistic between young children.

Instead the safety guidance is based on keeping children in closed groups of no more than 15, which stay separate from the rest of the school, and so minimise the risk of spreading infection.

These small groups will have one teacher and will learn, play and eat separately, arriving and leaving school at a different time from other small groups of pupils – each group staying two metres apart from any other.

It’s a system that’s followed Denmark’s “protective bubble” approach – and teachers there suggest that pupils adapt surprisingly quickly and seem to enjoy seeing their friends again.

Steve Chalke, founder of the Oasis academy trust which runs 35 primary schools, says it is very hard to have a catch-all set of national guidelines – because every school will have different buildings and circumstances.

Access to outside spaces, the design and size of rooms, the layout of schools and corridors will be different. Every building will need a “bespoke plan”, he says.

Mr Chalke, who supports reopening schools, says the pressure on space from class sizes of 15 will mean that schools are likely to need rota systems, such as different classes having morning and afternoon shifts.

That might raise childcare questions for parents, if they have to work around part-time school timetables.

Mr Chalke says while there are political debates going on between the government and teachers’ unions, the key demographic to persuade over reopening schools will be parents.

“If I’m a mum or a dad, am I going to send my child?”

He expects at first there might be relatively few arriving. “I’m guessing it’s going to be a trickle,” he says.

But he thinks if schools can show that schools are safe and children are glad to be back, the numbers will start increasing.

Schools were closed in a rush more than eight weeks ago – reopening them could prove a more complicated process.

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‘Stop squabbling’ demand over opening schools

The government and unions should “stop squabbling and agree a plan” to reopen schools safely, the children’s commissioner for England has said.

Anne Longfield said many disadvantaged children were losing out because of schools being closed for so long.

Teachers’ leaders met the government’s scientific advisers on Friday, but did not agree how to return to the classroom safely.

Some local authorities have said they will not reopen schools from 1 June.

The government has set out plans to begin a phased reopening of primary schools in England from 1 June.

But the plans have been challenged by teachers’ unions, who have disagreed with the Department for Education over whether it is safe to return to school.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson will lead the government’s daily briefing at 16:00 BST.

Meanwhile, the number of people who died with coronavirus in the UK has increased by 468, the government said on Saturday. It takes the total number of UK deaths, in all settings following a positive coronavirus test, to 34,466.

What does the children’s commissioner say?

Schools need to open “as quickly as possible”, Ms Longfield has said, as she called for stronger safety measures to be introduced, such as regular testing for pupils and teachers, managed interaction between adults and deep cleaning of facilities.

She said that, without a vaccine, schools will never be 100% safe, as she urged the government and unions to work together “in the interests of children”.

Schools have been closed by the coronavirus for most pupils since 20 March, staying open only for the children of key workers and vulnerable children.

Ms Longfield said that deprived and vulnerable children would suffer most from missing school and there was a growing “disadvantage gap”.

She backed plans to bring back children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6.

What do teaching unions say?

Kevin Courtney, co-leader of the UK’s biggest teaching union, the National Education Union (NEU), told BBC Breakfast the meeting with scientific advisers on Friday was a “step forward” but that more cooperation was needed between the government and unions to “find a safe way back”.

The NEU has drawn up five tests which, it says, the government should meet before schools reopen. These include regular testing, protection for vulnerable staff and a national plan for social distancing.

Mr Courtney called on the government to set up a task force with unions to plan a safe way of getting children back to school.

How are England’s councils divided?

Liverpool’s schools will not reopen until mid-June “at the very least”, the city’s council said.

Hartlepool Borough Council has also challenged the government’s timetable, saying schools will not reopen at the start of next month “given that coronavirus cases locally continue to rise”.

However, Andy Preston, mayor of Middlesbrough told BBC Breakfast that, although children and teachers have to be kept safe, “no-one can ever be given a 100% guarantee”, stressing the impact that school closures were having on deprived children.

While many primary schools in England are under local authority control, others are run by academy trusts.

Steve Chalke, founder of the Oasis Trust, which has 35 primary schools across the country, said opposition to reopening fails to recognise the harm to disadvantaged children from missing school.

England is the only UK nation to set a date for schools to start to return.

How do teachers and parents feel about schools returning?

Teachers have said they are worried about the emotional distress returning to the classroom could have on staff and pupils.

Becky, who has asked her surname not be used, teaches Reception and Year 1 at a primary school in Birmingham.

Speaking about the effect new rules will have on children, she said: “They won’t be able to play with toys, play with their friends. When they’re distressed and upset, how can we comfort them from a distance? It will cause them damage.”

Her comments were echoed by parent Claire Dhillon-Burrows, from Hertford, who has three children, one of whom is four years old and is due to return to school on 1 June.

“He doesn’t know how to social distance and still sucks his thumb,” she said, asking why teachers were being expected “to work a social distancing miracle with such young children”.

Why is the R-number important?

The British Medical Association has backed teachers’ unions by saying Covid-19 infection rates are too high for England’s schools to reopen.

The infection rate in the UK – the so-called “R-number” – has crept up from between 0.5 and 0.9 to between 0.7 and 1.0.

The number needs to be kept below one in order to stay in control and any increase in the number limits the ability of politicians to lift lockdown measures.

Prof Sir Mark Walport, the government’s former government chief scientific adviser, said the rise in the R-number – albeit “relatively small” – is concerning and illustrates how carefully social distancing measures need to be relaxed.

“There’s no question that the prospect of a second wave still exists,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Speaking about schools reopening, Prof Walport said schools have returned “in a very cautious fashion” in Denmark for the past month and the country’s R-number has reduced.

What does the government say?

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “Getting children back to school and nurseries is in their best interests and all those working in education have a duty to work together to do so.

“We welcome the children commissioner’s support for a phased return of children to primary school with many of the measures she raises, like staggering drop-off and pick-up times, keeping children in smaller groups and regular hand washing, already in train.”

Schools in Wales will not be going back on 1 June and it is not expected that schools in Scotland or Northern Ireland will go back before the summer break.

In other developments:

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Robert Fieldhouse obituary

My brother-in-law Robert Fieldhouse, who has died aged 68 after contracting Covid-19, was a teacher of students with learning difficulties. He was also a poet and an inspirational friend, who influenced many with his profound – and eclectic – love of music and literature.

Born in Leeds, he was the son of Stanley Fieldhouse, a civil engineer, and his wife, Doreen (nee Wright). His father’s career meant that for much of his childhood the family lived abroad, in places as varied as Yemen, Egypt and Germany. On return, they settled in Orpington, Kent, where Robert went to the Ramsden school for boys. In 1970 he trained as an English teacher at what is now Goldsmiths, University of London.

His first posts were at secondary schools in south London, where he quickly showed an instinctive rapport with special needs students. His great height and good looks gave him an imposing presence, but he was a gentle giant, combining a calm kindness with true sympathy.

In 1977 Robert married Angela Roddam, a head of communications in local government. When their daughter, Esme, was born, he happily put his career on hold to be a full-time father. Angela recalls the tenderness with which this huge man gently washed their child in a tiny baby bath. Robert resumed teaching in 1990, joining Oaklands College of further education in St Albans as a tutor of adults with learning difficulties.

Many students had been restored to the community after long periods in psychiatric hospitals. Robert and his colleagues saw their job as reversing the damage caused by institutionalisation. They allowed students the freedom to broaden their outlook through experience rather than narrow, exam-based education. Robert gave his time and attention unsparingly, and the students loved him for it.

Music was always at the heart of Robert’s life. From Bach to Boulez, Tim Hardin to Tongan folk songs, Van Morrison to Memphis Minnie, ragas to ragtime, his passion knew no bounds. And he communicated it (via a shower of mix-CDs) with unstoppable enthusiasm to friends and students. He was also an accomplished poet, fired increasingly by his anger at social injustice.

Robert’s marriage to Angela ended in divorce in 2009. His last years were darkened by the lengthening shadow of dementia, which he contracted at an early age, and which left him acutely vulnerable to the coronavirus while living at a care home in Baldock, north Hertfordshire.

He is survived by Esme and by his brother, Glynn, and sister, Jo.

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Unions tell staff ‘not to engage’ with plan for 1 June school openings

Government plans to reopen schools in England face a mounting backlash from education unions, who say the proposals are not feasible and have advised teachers and support staff not to “engage with” preparations for a 1 June return.

The Department for Education (DfE) wants children back in primary school in a phased reopening starting next month, with class sizes limited to 15 and a staggered timetable to limit the number of pupils and risk of transmission.

The education secretary, Gavin Williamson, has held regular meetings with sector leaders to try to keep teachers onboard, but relations appeared to be fraying on Tuesday with unions complaining they were not consulted on the 1 June return date or the year groups chosen to return first.

The National Education Union, which represents 450,000 teachers and other school staff, and the public service union Unison, representing school support staff, told members not to engage with planning for reopening on 1 June.

The shadow chancellor, Anneliese Dodds, meanwhile raised concerns about the potential safety risks. Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, she said: “I would be more than happy to send my own child to school if I knew that by doing so I would not be potentially harming others. That’s the critical issue for me. And we don’t have that evidence, I feel, currently.”

The government has said it wants children in reception, year 1 and year 6 to be back in school first, with other primary years joining later, but headteachers have raised concerns about problems with social distancing for younger children and health risks for pupils and staff.

Kevin Courtney, NEU joint general secretary, tweeted to members: “Education unions intend to work together. Don’t engage with planning a June 1 return to wider opening – await further union advice.” Schools are currently closed to all pupils other than children of key workers and vulnerable pupils.

According to the NEU, under health and safety legislation any employee, including teachers, are protected if they believe they will be exposed to a serious and imminent danger should they attend their place of work. “If such a situation does arise in a school or college our members will continue working from home as they have been over the last six weeks,” a spokesperson said.

Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, agreed there could be no compromise on health and safety. “If this means that schools are unable to open safely before September because they are unable to make arrangements to safeguard their staff and pupils, then that position must be accepted.”

Geoff Barton, meanwhile, who is general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, described government ambitions for school reopening as “frankly unfathomable”.

The government also appears to have some way to go to persuade families it will be safe to allow more pupils after an NEU poll of 1000 parents found that fewer than half (49%) would be prepared to send their children as soon as schools reopened and a third (33%) would delay their child’s return.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), told MPs on the education select committee on Tuesday that primary schools would struggle to accommodate classes of 15 with social distancing requirements.

“Our members are telling us that their building sizes on average would only accommodate classes of 10 to 12, rather than 15. So straight away we’re getting into some real practical difficulties about whether the government’s ambition can be practically accommodated. Let alone all the fears that parents have about bringing their children back into school, and the fears of the workforce too.”

Williamson said: “The latest scientific advice indicates it will be safe for more children to return to school from 1 June, but we will continue to limit the overall numbers in school and introduce protective measures to prevent transmission.

“This marks the first step towards having all young people back where they belong – in nurseries, schools and colleges – but we will continue to be led by the scientific evidence and will only take further steps when the time is right.”

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Marcia Worrell obituary

My friend, Marcia Worrell, who has died suddenly aged 54, forged a path in becoming one of a small group of black female professors of psychology. All Marcia’s scholarly work evolved from her long-held desire to call out injustice and oppression. Those who knew her cherished her kindness, warmth and energy.

Marcia was born and grew up in north London, the daughter of Odella (nee Patterson), a nurse, and Ulric Worrell, a carpenter and joiner, and the sister of Ian and Floyd. After leaving Canons high school, Harrow, in 1985 she began her undergraduate degree in psychology and sociology at the University of Reading, then completed her PhD in child abuse and neglect at the Open University, holding several academic posts before being awarded a professorship at the University of West London in 2014.

Over 35 years her friends watched with pride as Marcia developed innovative university modules and courses, while she undertook research aimed at making a positive change in a wide range of areas, all of which had one thing in common, helping to change people’s lives for the better.

At the Open University she was involved in creating courses relating to child welfare and protection, including the implications of the new Children’s Act (1989) for social work and other health and welfare practices. As her career progressed, Marcia’s focus expanded, and she became involved in an astonishing number of projects and roles, working in areas such as the psychology of women, of race and ethnicity, social, health and forensic psychology, child abuse and neglect.

Lately, at the University of West London, she had been involved in implementing the new policing education and qualification framework in partnership with the Metropolitan police and the London Policing College. She was one of the first members of the London Policing Research Network established in 2018. Marcia was especially proud of her work in the field of child abuse and neglect, including her support for survivors, and her international work in South Africa, Turkey and Cambodia, where she was instrumental in setting up one of the first master’s courses in psychology.

Marcia’s sense of fun and mischief were contagious. She loved music and dance, especially reggae – her favourite genre was lover’s rock, and one of her favourite artists was Janet Kay. Above all, she cared passionately about her students and colleagues.

She is survived by her parents, her brothers, and a niece, Leah, and two nephews, Dylan and Louie.

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Students: how has lockdown affected your final year of university?

A university degree should build towards the summer term of the final year, when all those essays and tests culminate in a lot of stress, a few massive exams and then some even bigger parties before one long summer, perhaps the last expanse of time young people enjoy before they enter the world of work. But that has not been the case for the class of 2020. Classes, exams, celebrations and even graduation ceremonies have all been upended by coronavirus.

If you are in your final year at university, we want to hear from you. What have the past few weeks been like? How has being in lockdown affected your studies and wider university life? Were your final exams and grades affected? Will your graduation ceremony go ahead as planned? And when will you be given the chance to say goodbye to your friends?

Overall, how has this affected your university experience? Do you feel entitled to a refund on your tuition fees? And how do you feel about what lies ahead? If you are planning to apply for jobs in the summer, are you worried about the state of the economy?

Share your experiences

We want to hear your experiences and stories. You can get in touch with us by filling in the encrypted form below. Only the Guardian will see your responses and one of our journalists may be in touch for more information if you are happy to be contacted.

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Denver Public Schools’ summer courses will be held remotely, all district summer camps canceled – The Denver Post

Denver Public Schools’ summer classes will be held remotely, and all DPS summer camps are canceled, the school district announced Monday.

“This decision was made with the goal of protecting the safety, health and wellness of students, staff and families as the district works to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus,” the school district wrote in a news release. “Amid the uncertainty this pandemic brings, DPS remains in close contact with public health officials, elected leaders and other school districts, and will continue sharing information as it’s available.”

Impacted DPS summer programs include:

  • All district camps canceled
  • Remote Summer Academy
  • Remote high school credit recovery
  • Remote sixth- and ninth-grade academies
  • Remote extended year services for special education
  • Remote summer professional learning, including June and July leadership weeks and New Educator Welcome Week
  • Continued grab-and-go food distribution

Gov. Jared Polis ordered a closure of all public and private schools across Colorado on March 18 in an effort to stop the spread of the highly contagious new coronavirus. Polis continued to extend the order, eventually mandating in April the closure of all schools in the state for in-person learning through the rest of the academic year.

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Young English language learners among those hit hardest by Colorado’s shift to remote learning

When Vanessa Baca wraps up her full-time housekeeping job, there are only a few hours left on the clock. But the work day has just begun.

The Adams County single mother must cook, clean and tend to her children’s needs, but emails from her kindergartener’s teacher alerting her to which assignments the 6-year-old has yet to complete weigh on her.

Baca was grateful Welby Community School provided her child with a tablet when school buildings were closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, freeing up the family computer for her college-aged son. However, her little one struggled to make the tablet’s electronic pencil write and draw what he had in his head. His mom needed to sit next to him the entire time, helping him use the technology.

Maybe printing out the lessons would be easier, Baca thought.

Then the printer broke.

In such uncertain economic times, Baca couldn’t justify spending money on a printer for her kindergartner’s school work. She instead painstakingly copied her son’s assignments by hand on pieces of paper for him to complete.

Yet Baca considers herself lucky. Although she wishes there were more hours in the day, Baca knows basic English and technology skills — advantages, she said, many don’t have.

More than 125,000 of Colorado’s approximately 911,000 K-12 students were English language learners in the 2018-2019 academic year, according to the Colorado Department of Education. The rapid switch to remote learning amid the pandemic has been an unwanted disruption for many Colorado students, teachers and families, but educators are seeing firsthand how the state’s most vulnerable students — including those learning English — are at risk of falling even further behind.

“My English is not the best, but at least I can read and talk the basics,” Baca said. “That helps a lot. But there are a lot of people I know who have never touched a computer before. They don’t have internet. They have never had email. They don’t know how to click a link to set up an account. I can’t imagine how those people are doing.”

In Colorado, the children in households lacking internet are disproportionately Hispanic, younger and from lower income families, according to a study issued this week by Colorado State University’s Futures Center.

“I think what this pandemic has really highlighted, not just in DPS but globally, is the difference between the haves and the have-nots,” said Nadia Madan Morrow, executive director of Denver Public Schools’ Department of English Language Acquisition. “If I just think about my own two DPS students, the amount of privilege they have right now. We’re all healthy. I have the ability to work from home and bring home a salary. We have multiple devices in our home, internet, enough bandwidth. They have a mom who is an educator who can help them. Typically, families of English learners fall into the have-not categories. This has just really, really shown the difference.”

Surprising data

The CSU study, which analyzed 2018 census data for its findings, estimated 54,000 students in Colorado don’t have internet access at home, making the basic logistics of remote learning a nightmare. Of those children, the study found more than 40,000 of them were Hispanic.

“We certainly expected a portion, but for almost two-thirds to be Hispanic was a bit surprising,” said Phyllis Resnick, executive director and lead economist at CSU’s Colorado Futures Center.

For all regions in the state except the central mountains, there are more Hispanic school-aged children without internet access than with it, the report found.

Fifty-two percent of children without internet live in households earning less than $50,000, the report said. Twenty-five percent live in households earning less than $25,000.

One in four of these households is headed by a single parent. Nearly 60% have at least one parent working in an essential industry.

Almost half of the state’s kids lacking internet access are elementary-aged.

“If those children go back to school — hopefully — in the fall without any formal education for six months, they are going to be at a pretty significant gap,” Resnick said. “These young children going through these circumstances now could have that gap for the rest of their lives because of this pandemic.”

Teaching and troubleshooting

Madan Morrow’s waking existence is spent trying to ensure that doesn’t happen.

The DPS employee is grateful her district prioritized feeding families and distributing technology and internet connections so she could focus on instruction for English language learners.

“Daily English language development lessons are being provided for teachers,” Madan Morrow said. “My department did many, many sessions training teachers on the lessons they’re providing.”

Madan Morrow and the educators working with English language learners have had to troubleshoot how to teach language at a distance by embedding videos of themselves or examples found online into their remote learning lessons.

“If I don’t speak very much English, I may not be able to read the directions on the page, so we have taken video recordings of our staff members reading the directions and walking kids through what they’re supposed to do because kids don’t have that one-on-one support they might be used to,” Madan Morrow said.

Normally, Madan Morrow said DPS strives for 50% of English language learner lessons to consist of students speaking.

“That has been difficult in a remote setting,” Madan Morrow said.

When technology is available, students can record themselves talking, and teachers can give feedback later.

According to the CSU study, school-age children in Colorado living in households reporting no internet access live in higher numbers in southwest Colorado and the metro Denver region.

For DPS students still without internet access, Madan Morrow said the district will be mailing paper lesson packets next week.

“At the very least, they have some content in front of them they can make an attempt to do,” Madan Morrow said.

Educating parents

Brisa Morales, a Glenwood Springs mom, already was frustrated by her two children’s attempts at remote learning.

“Today was the first day of online classes in my house,” Morales told The Denver Post on Monday. “It’s hard to see my kids sitting at the table frustrated because they don’t understand what all the questions are and even harder for me to not explain to them and not help them with the school activities because of my Spanish speaking. This is the first day. I hope it can be better, but I’m worried it gets worse.”

Morales now spends her days working at a local nonprofit teaching largely adult Spanish speakers — mostly parents — how to use video conferencing platforms.

Some of her students have never touched a computer before. Some have never used a smart phone. Morales, who just learned how to video conference, herself, is coaching people over phone calls.

“I want people to know that not every parent knows about technology like they do,” Morales said. “Someone needs to educate us so we can be able to educate our kids.”

Jennifer Newcomer and Resnick, who conducted the CSU study, hope a silver lining from the pandemic comes in the form of thinking creatively about how to better support struggling students and their families.

“Can we get some pedagogy in daycare?” Resnick asked. “Can we think about summer programs — a lot of which probably aren’t going to run because of health concerns — but can we structure things consistent with health guidelines and reach these children and do reading circles with them in a park or nature hikes? We need to think creatively about how you continue learning for children who traditional distance learning — not that there’s anything traditional about this — does not work.”

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Italian lessons: what we’ve learned from two months of home schooling

Most of us in Emilia-Romagna, in northern Italy, remember the weekend of 22 February very clearly. To begin with there were just rumours – phone calls and messages flying around between friends – but then it was confirmed: all schools in the region were going to close for a week.

The decision was, in many ways, shocking. At that time, there had only been three deaths from Covid-19 in Italy, and only 152 reported infections. It seemed strange that education was the first social activity to be sacrificed. I guessed it was because it wasn’t perceived to be economically productive. Nothing else was closing: football grounds, bars, shops and ski resorts were still open for business, and no schools in any other European country had closed.

Still, to our three kids – Benny (15), Emma (13) and Leo (9) – the idea of a week off seemed like bliss. We had moved back to Parma from the UK three years earlier, and by comparison with the UK, education here seemed relentless. Many pupils go to school six days a week and there are no half-term holidays. But my wife, Francesca, who is Italian, and I were both worried. She works with Syrian refugees, which isn’t a job you can suddenly drop, and I had just been offered a 9-to-5 job, after 21 years of being freelance. We, like all our friends, suddenly had an acute childcare crisis.

The announcement had been so sudden that schools had few plans or resources in place to teach remotely. Italy spends a lot less on education than almost every other western country. Spending per student (from primary school to university) equates to $8,966 per annum, compared to $11,028 in the UK and $11,502 in Sweden. The under-investment is so serious that in December 2019, the education minister, Lorenzo Fioramonti, resigned in protest.

Nor did many Italian teachers seem to know how to approach this new world in which they found themselves. There is minimal teacher-training in Italy. University graduates are often thrown into a classroom without any knowledge of pedagogic theories or practical experience. Inspections are almost unheard of. The result is that Italian education is, at its worst, particularly conservative and condescending: the pupil is seen as an empty vessel to be filled with knowledge that is regurgitated in exams.

Because of that lack of money, and because, according to the OECD, Italy has the oldest teachers in the world – 59% are over 50 – Italian schools are heavily analogue. Kids carry a dozen books to and from school every day in massive backpacks, like Obelix and his rock, which did not seem like a promising basis for remote learning.

But if Italian schools weren’t perfect, they were surely better than nothing. The idea that we now had to recreate formal education within the narrow walls of a city flat with no garden was daunting. We lacked the time, energy or even knowledge to replace their teachers. Nor, the kids made it clear, did they even want us to try.

Parents and teachers across the country had to scramble to devise ways continue our children’s learning. But slowly – over the course of two months – something rather unexpected happened. As we started to ponder how this experiment of home schooling could best be delivered, it began to feel as if it was us, the parents and teachers, as much as the pupils, who were being educated.

The first week off school was the lull before the storm. It genuinely felt like a holiday. Being pragmatic and slightly puritan, we don’t let the kids watch TV, or ourselves drink alcohol, on weekdays. When it was announced that school was closed, we lifted the rules. On 1 March, another week of school closures was announced, so we went up to the mountains, half an hour outside the city, to plant trees and play cards. On 4 March, a new government decree announced that every school in Italy would be suspended the following day.

In those early days it was all fun. I left the children spelling tests under their plates or pillows, and if they wanted to watch TV they had to learn elements of the periodic table or the bones of the human skeleton or how to tie knots. It felt as if we were, finally, the right side of that ancient Roman dichotomy of “otium-negotium”, an idea to which Italians occasionally refer. Otium was the time of creative repose when you were able to freewheel and follow your fancies – unlike negotium, which was all about business and the practical side of life.

We had a few advantages, I suppose. The ages of our kids mean that there are no tantrums at one end, and no alcohol or boyfriend issues at the other. We enjoy just hanging out together. I’ve also spent much of my life teaching. I’ve taught everywhere from primary schools to prisons and universities. For years, at home, we’ve had mealtime quizzes. One Christmas, Benny even gifted the family three bells of the kind they have in hotel receptions so that we could truly have “fingers on buzzers”.

The few educational theories I have come from the British psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott, who believed that play is the path to a child’s wholeness and wellbeing. Games give children the chance to make decisions for themselves and provide an opportunity for spontaneity, fun, deceit and calculation. So for those first two weeks we played incessantly: perudo (“liars’ dice”), blackjack, euchre, backgammon and epic table-tennis tournaments with various handicaps (playing left-handed or subtracting your age from your score). The kids weren’t learning much, but at least poor old Leo was learning to be a good loser.

Being the youngest, he needed some fun, and since at this point his class had as yet no lessons organised, I asked his teacher if we could make 10-minute English lessons for his classmates. The aim was as much to cheer them up as to learn English. We would wear wigs and teach his peers the English names for body parts by sawing them off and using lots of fake blood. We taught grammar through declining lavatorial verbs. Emma would edit the videos and we would send them to the class WhatsApp group, which had, until now, been a basic tool for school admin and parental gossip.

Despite all those good intentions, it was hard not to feel inadequate, even anxious. Well-meaning messages were circulating among parents about which museums, theatres, aquariums and zoos had opened their virtual doors. Many were posting pictures of their well-behaved children clicking their way through the Guggenheim, while ours were watching House on Netflix. We quickly felt defeated by the sheer volume of offerings, and guilty that we weren’t sharing these cultural delights with our children.

The following weekend, on 8 March, the government announced that the whole of Emilia-Romagna (plus Lombardy and the Veneto) was to be placed in lockdown, and that schools would be closed for at least another month. Three days later, on 11 March, the entire country went into full lockdown.

We were slowly realising how dark things were becoming. On 12 March, we passed 1,000 nationwide deaths, and only four days later passed 2,000. There was defiance and denial as we sang on balconies and people hung out bedsheets with the wrong-headed slogan “andrà tutto bene” (“it’ll all be fine”), but the mood was turning as the death toll continued to rise.

It was at this point that teachers dumped a load of homework on their pupils. Having had a fortnight to plan how to teach through the crisis, many decided that the best way was to send out entire chapters of books for children to learn, and hundreds of pages of exercises to complete. After a fortnight of freedom, pupils were now overloaded.

The other thing that changed was that my new job started. For the first time this century, I had bosses and meetings and responsibilities. It brought to an abrupt end my educational clowning. Suddenly no one in the family had much spare time and nor, it seemed, such good cheer.

The closing of all Italy’s schools meant teachers found themselves having to invent a new kind of classroom from scratch. There were no ministerial guidelines or approved websites. “The entirety of this new form of online teaching,” said Daniele Martino, a middle-school teacher in Turin, “was created by us teachers at the last minute.”

At the beginning, it was chaotic. There was little coordination between different teachers within the same schools, let alone across different schools, and parents reported finding themselves boggled by a vast array of IT platforms: Meet, Classroom, Zoom, Jitsi, Edmodo. The problem wasn’t only that sites and servers crashed as the country’s almost 8 million students all logged on. Many kids couldn’t connect at all.

The Digital Economy and Society Index rates Italy 24 out of 28 European countries in its “digitalisation index”, and last year Italy’s national statistics agency, Istat, reported that 23.9% of Italian families have no access to the internet. As one teacher said to me: “We’ve discovered how democratic pencil-and-paper is.” The attempt by many teachers to get less-privileged students the necessary laptops and internet connections is one of the untold stories of this crisis. By 19 March, the ministry of education claimed to have distributed 46,152 tablets throughout the country. Since then, an emergency budget has created a €70m fund for providing computers to those without. Even if the necessary hardware is distributed, one special educational needs teacher told me that online classes just don’t work for children who need bespoke lessons: “Those who are already doing well at school are now doing even better, but those who were struggling are just falling further behind.”

At the start, I got the sense that no one really knew how to do what was becoming known as “DAD” – didattica a distanza, or long-distance learning. When teachers were struggling with IT, it was often their pupils who came to the rescue. “I have an exceptional digital consultant”, said Claudio Dionesalvi, a literature teacher in Calabria. “He’s 11, and is one of my students. He’s like a junior version of Mr Wolf in Pulp Fiction.”

The teacher-pupil balance also shifted. In an online classroom, if pupils aren’t interested or motivated, they can hide far more easily. They can feign technological issues, freeze the camera, mute the microphone. Around this time, I did a few online lessons for various schools and saw the problem close up: when the pupils weren’t engaged they would drift away and, not having them there in front of you, you couldn’t bring them back into the circle.

Teachers were having to learn new ways to draw their students out. “I could no longer do the classic head-on, knowledge-passing lesson,” said Betta Salvini, a history teacher in Parma. “I now involve them all the time, I turn the lesson upside down so that they are the protagonists, so that I hear their voices.”

But school was also being reinvented because Italy’s traditional educational stick had been removed. Usually pupils are given many tests each month and if, at the end of the year, their average score is insufficient, they’re bocciato – failed – and have to repeat the year. Now, teachers quickly realised there was no way to stop students cheating in tests. When someone is in their bedroom, and all you can see is their face, you have no idea if they have the book open on their lap, or are messaging friends or Googling the answer.

Traditionalist teachers were beside themselves. One parent in Umbria told me how a teacher stormed out of the virtual classroom when she discovered how many pupils were cheating. Then the new education minister, Lucia Azzolina, suggested that in the circumstances, no pupils would be sent back to repeat the year again. Between the cheating and the automatic promotion to the next school year, teachers who needed a big stick suddenly found themselves disarmed.

“Many of my colleagues are really struggling”, said Riccardo Giannitrapani, a maths teacher in a secondary school in Udine. These two months, he told me, have been more about a re-education of teachers than of pupils. “Before, we used to discuss students in meetings by giving them numbers, even down to decimal points – 5.4, 5.5.” These marks, he said, became an end in themselves, creating acute anxiety among not only the children, but also their parents.

There has always been a battle in Italy between hardliners and child-centred reformers such as Maria Montessori. It now seemed as if progressives had the upper hand. Salvatore Giuliano, a headteacher in Brindisi and a former education minister, told me: “A child of 15 has far more creativity than we have. Every time you give them the freedom and tools to create something, they will astonish you.” Giuliano described some memorable student-led presentations he has seen in recent weeks. His favourite was an extended family – parents, siblings and grandparents – all dressed up as the planets and moving around the room.

Many teachers have had to soften their approach, to take into account what their pupils were going through. “Some of them have lost a grandparent”, said Paola Lante, a primary-school teacher in Milan. “Their parents are losing their jobs or are fighting at home. At the end of the day, a teacher has to be a steadying influence, a social worker and a psychologist.”

At the beginning of the lockdown, Giannitrapani, the maths teacher in Udine, published an open letter to his pupils saying that he shouldn’t be the one overloading them, but vice versa – they should be bombarding him with their questions. Sara Scotellaro, in Naples, has 120 pupils in various classes: “They no longer have a timetable and you have to be constantly available”, she said. “They have this need to be immediately reassured – that their work has been received, that it’s OK, that you’re happy with them.”

That fluidity of boundaries has had advantages and disadvantages. In video lessons some pupils have found it embarrassing to share their personal spaces – their bedrooms and, in the background, even their embarrassing parents. Many teachers describe seeing a new side to their students. “There’s no longer the intimidation of the pack,” said one teacher, “and so they’re bringing out what they really know. I’ve got a 13-year-old, the son of two ex-offenders, who has produced some diaries of extraordinary depth.” Lante told me about a very timid student who never speaks in class but who, it only now emerges, is exceptional at languages. “It makes you understand”, said Lante, “that we need a very varied form of education”.

By the third week of March, after a month with no school, Francesca and I were also beginning to see our children in a new light. Like most kids, they’re monosyllabic when describing their days at school – “fine” usually does it. Now, as lessons were literally taking place in the kitchen, we were unexpectedly in the classroom with them. We could see what was going on.

It was both painful and funny. We realised that one of our children, exuberant and confident at home, often froze when asked a question in class. Another, usually conscientious and honest, was asked by her teacher to show her artwork. Because it hadn’t turned out too well, she held up her drawing up against the window, and held the painting she was supposed to have copied behind it, so it showed through behind her own. That mini-deceit made her work look rather sophisticated.

Another consequence of lessons taking place at home was that the greatest problem in schools – boisterous disturbances – suddenly subsided. One of our children has a class that is usually very noisy: the kids misbehave and the teacher yells, and soon everyone is shouting over each other. Now, with the children subdued by their parents’ presence, and the teacher aware that parents could be listening, there was a new-found calm to the lessons and, we thought, a genuine warmth to the encounters.

But there was no timetable to our children’s lessons. There were odd hours here and there, sometimes in the early morning, sometimes mid-afternoon. Our elderly laptops and wifi were often inadequate, and so the only working devices were passed around. There wasn’t a lot of rhythm or relaxation to our day. Francesca and I were still trying to take up a lot of slack, but as March turned into April, our initial energy had subsided.

We had passed 10,000, then 15,000 deaths from Covid-19. Even though the kids had enough spare time to be habitually bored, they were no longer cleaning the house or doing their daily learning tasks. Spelling tests and fitness regimes were forgotten. They seemed to have become – if not agoraphobic – certainly “agora-meh”. They wouldn’t even walk around the block. They were getting up later each day, and even when vertical, it became hard to persuade them to get out of pyjamas.

As often happens when you stop doing something, you suddenly wonder why you were doing it in the first place. Benny, who has been obsessive about ballet all her life and attends a dance academy, entered a profound crisis. She said she wanted to stop dancing altogether. Even Leo, a football fanatic, barely mentioned or played with a football any more. It felt as if their passions had evaporated somehow.

It’s hard, as a parent, not to be frustrated, especially if – as a writer – you regret that they never read books. Every time I emerged from my office, I would see them all on their screens, headphones on. Lessons had become indistinguishable from down-time. For all the idealism about digital learning, it seemed extraordinarily passive to me.

I tried to take things in hand. Mealtimes were raucous because they had so much pent-up energy, so I thought “if they’re not going to read, I’ll read to them”. I would bring a book to table, not realising that I was becoming just like one of the conservative teachers I had always scorned, force-feeding them my passions and using knowledge to sedate and subdue. They would snigger and scoff. “I just don’t get poetry,” Emma grumbled.

Fortunately they have a wiser mother. We have no garden, but four balconies, and as spring came on, Francesca was planting and weeding. The children were drawn to the gardening, perhaps because it was everything their schooling isn’t – outdoors and manual. Emma propagated her succulents and so needed more shelf space, and went to the garage to do some carpentry. They began sewing, and cooking cappelletti, croissants and – their much-missed English snack – digestive biscuits.

It’s hard to know how much it was more to do with psychology or spare time, but they all began rearranging their bedrooms, moving beds and desks. It was as if they were rearranging their internal and external furniture. Photographs, pictures and books were culled, others were added. They asked for new haircuts. Francesca and I watched it all and tried to work out ways to keep bringing them out of both their closed bedrooms and their private worlds.

I changed my approach. I know that theatricality is sometimes helpful in teaching, so one evening, as I read a poem, I put a small shiny box on the table. They pretended to listen, but were all watching that box, wondering what the game was. I had chosen to read Seamus Heaney’s Digging. It’s a poem about how we look up to, and down on, our parents. It’s about the difficulty of a writer feeling worthy of agricultural ancestors because the pen is nothing compared with the depth of a spade. But it’s also about the need for children to go their own way and not, perhaps, feel unworthy. When I had finished, I just passed them the box. Inside I had cut up all the words of the poem. “Go on then,” I said, “write it your way.”

Suddenly they were excited about poetry. They snatched words from each other, tried them out here and there. As they laughed, the slim pieces of paper flew around the table. With its farmyard diction – “squelch”, “slap”, “rump” – the poem now seemed earthy rather than erudite. Instead of being told to admire a Grecian urn, they now had the clay in their hands.

As they found their new hybrid role of being both pupils and teachers, we said they could award themselves marks both for content (a letter) and effort (a number). It was really, of course, just a way to show them that marks aren’t about approval (external) but honesty (internal).

The more you look at the educational conundrum in lockdown Italy, the more you see everyone’s vulnerabilities. Students have always felt fretful because of their weekly tests and the stigma of being held back a year. But now many teachers feel insecure, too: not just because education seems like the last priority of government, but because they are scared of digitalised learning and fear being replaced by screens.

Even those who relish the technology, like the Calabrian teacher Claudio Dionesalvi, are concerned: “Distance-learning is a strange video game,” he said, “but in the end it’s a torture. A teacher can’t be holed up in front of a screen. They risk becoming two-dimensional – an artificial TV personality.”

Many parents are anxious, not just because their children are losing out on formative months of learning, but also because – without those marks – they have no measure of their offspring’s progress. Chiara Esposito, a middle-school teacher, told me “parents are the most conservative element in the school ecosystem. They become paranoid if their child isn’t ‘an eight’ or hasn’t completed the set book. They’re the ones we really need to educate.”

Surprisingly, even the education technology firms promoting digital learning platforms to schools feel apprehensive. Lorenzo Benussi is the chief innovation officer of the Fondazione per la Scuola della Compagnia di San Paolo, which promotes inclusivity and creativity in education, and a former technical adviser to the minister of education. He is concerned that teachers are using new tech to reproduce the same old teaching methods, instead of grasping this opportunity for a completely new kind of teaching. “When all this talk about digital learning began back in March,” he said, “I was very, very worried, because it’s not about technology. Technology is just a means. Its effectiveness depends entirely on your didactic approach.”

Edoardo Montenegro from Betwyll, which is launching a new social reading app with educational publisher Pearson for Italian schools in September, says something very similar: “A WhatsApp video call or a Zoom meeting isn’t digital learning. Those encounters can be just as frontal and rhetorical as an old-style professorial lesson.”

‘Feasting on fantasy’: my month of extreme immersion in Disney+

No one knows when formal schooling will resume, and everyone feels uncertain of what their role will be when it does. But uncertainty is, according to the great educationalist Loris Malaguzzi, actually a vital ingredient for inclusive, collegiate learning. Only “a willingness to question all your own abilities and knowledge”, he said in 1992, two years before his death, leads to humility and listening. That, he said, “is how we educate each other together.”

It’s exactly two months since the schools closed in Emilia-Romagna. And to us, in our city apartment, it does feel as if, in the gentle argy-bargy of family life, we’ve been educating each other. Maybe it would have happened anyway, but it’s changed how we see ourselves. The girl destined to be a ballerina seems to be mourning the end of that dream. The perfectionist has glimpsed a goal that’s deeper than marks out of 10. The boy who seemed riotous has been revealed as nervously studious. The teacher has become an accompanist and the gardener our guide. And with almost five months to go until schools (possibly) reopen in mid-September, I’m sure we’ve still got a lot to learn.

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