GTC Scotland

The General Teaching Council for Scotland

A whole new world

School closures have seen parents and pupils forced to adapt to new ways of home learning. Here we hear how they have fared…

St Joseph’s Primary School in East Renfrewshire has been aiming to ensure that learning continues. Nikola Millar is a childcare worker, with two of her four children at St Joseph’s.

“My husband and I both work in residential childcare so were entitled to put our children in the Netherlee Hub. However, I’m a nightshift worker so I felt that would be unfair both on the children and for people who need the priority spaces given that I am home during the day.

“When we were advised that the school would be closing and that the children would be given work to do at home, immediately I was dreading it. I have regular arguments with them over homework, let alone home schooling! However, I like a challenge and I love making charts and lists. I set about making a quarantine routine with a realistic start time (10am). I made sure there was outdoor time, craft time and free time as well as completing school work.

“The children told me that their individual teachers would be putting messages on their Glow accounts and they were to check these daily and headteacher Mrs Martin had told them to get up and dressed before doing work and not to sit in their pyjamas. At first, I was unsure how I felt about that, particularly coming off a night shift and having three children at home to attend to, however, it sets the tone for the day.

“At first, I was definitely more overwhelmed than the children. We stuck somewhat to the routine, but it certainly didn’t cover what the teacher has posted on Google Classroom. There were photos from textbooks that my P2 didn’t physically have and details of what he was to do, including booklets from his folder. There were links from the head of the infant department with videos to watch and questions to follow. I would then have to log one child out to log the other in and was met with another ‘to do’ list. I was really concerned about how we would manage.

“In the first week, I found myself becoming overwhelmed and, when my five-year-old folded her arms and shouted at me that this was rubbish, I snapped back ‘I don’t want to do this anymore than you do!’ I then shut myself in the bathroom and just cried.

“The following day it was as though Mrs Martin had been a fly on the wall as we opened Google Classroom to a video of her talking directly to the children and telling them to tell their parents not to worry about the work, that there is no time limit, their work will always be there and to make sure they have fun with their family and get out to play. Their wee faces when they saw her – how exciting seeing your headteacher in her own home talking to you! Again, I cried, but this time with relief.

“With a different mindset, the quarantine routine is out the window! Every morning we log into Google Classroom, but now the children are excited to see what Mrs Martin is doing. One morning she and her son were in their garden building a bug hotel and attached the instructions for the children.

“All the teachers talk to the children, whether in a video or a written message and they encourage feedback. They will ask about the children about their weekend and to comment what their favourite thing was. The children can then read their classmates’ replies before writing their own. It’s just lovely. They also do an ‘emotional check in’, where the children say a number between 1 and 5, 1 being all is great and I’m ready to learn and 5 being not so great and needing help. They then have a space to type anything they want and submit it to their teacher.

“I feel that with St Joseph’s being a smaller school than many, they have a family ethos, which is regularly promoted throughout the school.

“Children are so resilient though, and my two younger ones so far are happy being at home, but they also have each other to play with. Although this has its ups and downs, I am grateful that they always have a friend and I feel sad for their friends who don’t have siblings. I also allow them to FaceTime a friend after lunch (which is also a good bribe).

“With the younger ones I’ve found that by putting out a couple of tasks from their folder, a fun activity and then a Google Classroom task and allowing them to choose which order they would like to do it in works better. I also find that separating them and spending individual time with each of them has far better results.
“As parents we never think we’re doing enough and always question ourselves, therefore the frequent reassurance from all of the teachers is gratefully received. The care the teachers have for our children genuinely comes across in their messages and my children know that their teachers adore them.
“I honestly don’t know how I think it will be in terms of school learning when the world returns to normal, it seems too far away to contemplate. What I do know for sure though is that I will never again complain about how many holidays teachers get!”

Robyn, 16, is in S4 at Castle Douglas High School. She aspires to be a Secondary PE teacher and was due to be sitting her National 5 exams this summer.

“My school was closed pretty much as soon as this all happened. I was so, so disappointed as it felt like all of my hard work preparing for the exams this year was for nothing. I know that I will have a grade at the end of it, but I would have preferred to sit the exam and earn my grade on merit. Many of my friends feel the same way and we all feel really anxious about what our final grades will look like and what that means for our future. We all trust that our teachers know us and know what we would be likely to achieve, so I guess it is just a waiting game now. It must be hard for teachers in Scotland who are having to make these judgements.

“I plan to leave school after S5, providing I have the correct grades to get into PE teaching. I would like to go to either Stirling or Edinburgh University because they both provide excellent sports facilities and they are both cities that are within reach of home, yet will give me the opportunity to build my independence. I was looking forward to visiting both for the open days but they have been postponed until the autumn. Those days will let me have a good look before I need to apply.

“S4 to S6 have completed all of our exam subject content and we were due to be on study leave soon, so we don’t have any contact right now with teachers. That said, for the first two weeks, the teachers were setting a daily challenge on Facebook to keep us connected.

“My Mum owns and runs a small newsagent and we are looking after our elderly and vulnerable customers. This allows me to maintain a routine of getting up early and being productive. When I get home, I have been trying to self-study for Higher Modern Studies as my teacher has reached out on Microsoft Teams and provided us with a unit of work about the USA and politics. I am also using BBC Bitesize to study for Higher Biology. Both platforms are very different, but I think having that interaction with my teacher is more reassuring at the moment.

“I usually have a three-mile run every other day and in between, a 10-mile bike ride with my Dad. I am really missing my sports at school and out in the community, such as my weekly rugby, netball and basketball training. What I miss most is playing and watching ladies rugby alongside my friends and competing in the Carlisle netball league with my friends and team-mates.

“I use Snapchat a lot with my friends and use FaceTime to contact my closest ones. We chat a lot because it is important to hear each others’ voices. It stops you feeling a bit lonely. I also use group FaceTime to contact my grandparents and aunties, and WhatsApp to contact my little cousin in Switzerland. She must be bored too as she sends me lots of messages every day.”

Megan, 9, is in Primary 4 at Aberdour Primary School, from which children of key worker parents are going to nearby Inverkeithing.

“It was a shock when the school closed but the teachers kept us prepared by warning us it might happen. I am keeping in touch on Glow, email and Teams. My music and PE teachers are also keeping in touch on Teams. My teacher has also been giving us lots of encouragement and feedback.

“Each morning, the teacher will post on Teams and Outlook a task for the morning. We are given a grid of weekly tasks for us to work through. We have also been getting challenges on Sumdog and HAM (a maths resource). Before we left the school, the teachers gave us worksheets, jotters, a pencil and logins for various websites.

“I have been doing a mixture of tasks set by my teachers and online exercise including Dancing with Oti and PE with Joe Wicks. I have also been going out for fresh air in my garden and the woods opposite my house. Some of my afterschool clubs have been doing classes on Zoom. My younger sister and I have been helping each other with our work.

“The best resources are Sumdog, Glow and Duolingo. I don’t use Duolingo or YouTube at school so I have been learning new things to use. I have also been keeping in touch with my friends using my mum’s FaceTime and Facebook Messenger. Not seeing my friends is the hardest part of lockdown. It is nice to have a sister for company and games.

“I will play with all my friends in the park and playground at the school when lockdown is finished.”

Joanna Murphy is Chair of the National Parent Forum of Scotland (NPFS), which is promoting the Scottish Government’s Parent Club ( and highlighting resources for parents every day, along with mental and physical health advice and tips.

“In the course of seven days, all our lives went from normal to unimaginable and that brought a whole lot of emotions and feelings to the surface – not just in parents but in all of our children, family members, friends and colleagues too.

“Some parents are adjusting to their new normal, but it’s a bit of a stretch when at any point of the day someone will be shell-shocked, nervous, hyper, devastated, scared or tired in equal measure.

“Things are weird and tensions are heightened just now, but the NPFS is urging parents not to be too hard on themselves. Keep to a routine, by all means, but remember to adjust to ‘local differences’, taking into account how others in each household are feeling that day. It can all get too much sometimes and so reorganise the timetable if you need to avert a meltdown. Being a parent and the teacher at the same time is a tricky thing to work out. You are doing your best and that’s all you can do.”