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Live school lessons using videocalls put pupils at risk, warns union

'Teachers should not be pressured into using their own IT equipment to broadcast a lesson from their own home'

23 May, 2020 — By Richard Osley

TEACHERS are set to resist any attempt to force them to give online lessons amid a row over contact time with pupils during the coronavirus lockdown,

Staff at some schools were angered that politicians at the Town Hall were debating whether to bring in video technology and a “virtual classroom” last week, as they compared what state schools were offering in comparison to fee-paying secondaries.

The council said a decision rested with individual schools.

But Gerald Clark from the Camden branch of the National Education Union said its members had been advised not to deliver lessons this way.

“There are many potential safeguarding risks in doing so,” he said.

“These relate from effectively asking teachers to visit children in their own homes and have children visit theirs. We understand that lockdown has forced a majority of people to work from home, but teaching children is a very different situation and the boundaries between personal and professional lives are a paramount to the safety of children and teachers alike.”

He said that some exceptions where risks were low could be possible: such as a teacher on school premises delivering lessons to sixth formers who had parental consent.

But Mr Clark added: “We do not believe though that any teacher should be pressured into using their own IT equipment to broadcast a lesson from their own home.”

The issue came up at last week’s Covid-19 Oversight Committee, a cross-party panel of councillors reviewing Camden’s response to the coronavirus crisis.

Both Labour councillor Anna Wright and Conservative group leader Oliver Cooper said online lessons were needed to stop pupils falling behind peers who did have access to them in other areas or at fee-paying schools.

Labour councillor Anna Wright wants secondary schools to provide live lessons

The issue then came up again in a videocall between youth organisations and MP Sir Keir Starmer and council chiefs on Friday. Teenagers suggested there had been sharp variations between how much contact pupils had with their teachers during the lockdown and what resources were available.

Mr Clark said: “Teachers are working very hard to make sure that what they are able to deliver is relevant, progressing pupils and giving sufficient feedback to enable pupils to improve. “But we also can’t pretend that existing circumstances are anywhere near as good as normal at meeting the learning needs of our pupils.” He added: “Teaching more online lessons may improve the pupils’ experience, but it isn’t a substitute for being in the classroom and so we have to weigh up the benefits against the disadvantages.”


SEE ALSO SCHOOLS URGED TO PROVIDE LIVE LESSONS VIA VIDEO CALLS DURING LOCKDOWN


The discussion has also highlighted a “digital divide” between pupils who have easy access to computers and electronic devices at home, and those who do not. Camden continues to appeal for laptop donations from businesses.

Martin Pratt, the council’s deputy chief executive, told last week’s meeting: “It’s worth noting that the digital divide is actually a really tangible expression of the level of inequality that we knew existed but has not just been thrown into sharp relief by the coronavirus emergency but also amplified it.”

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