The following sections discuss the participants’ views on responding to the children’s learning needs during the COVID-19 outbreak. Qualitative responses shed further light in the views recorded in multiple choice questions. 


Distance learning and home-schooling: 

Overall, distance learning and home-schooling were used interchangeably by practitioners, although it was mentioned in qualitative responses that home-schooling during COVID-19 may differ from the way children were home-schooled before the outbreak. Practitioners and families seemed to agree that a high proportion of their children started home-schooling due to the outbreak. According to both groups’ responses, the person responsible for distance learning was a parent or a teaching staff from the child’s setting. Most families reported that their children depended on an adult to complete the learning tasks, but this varied from being 100% dependent to 100% independent. The two groups had similar views on the impact of learning practices during the outbreak on their opinion about the feasibility of home-schooling and outlined what they perceived as advantages and disadvantages of learning at home. Practitioners reported keeping in regular contact with families during the outbreak and monitoring attendance of learners still attending school. Both groups discussed completing and returning the learner’s homework during the lockdown. Finally, they overall agreed that distance learning regularly or frequently meant digital learning in their conversations during the lockdown.

Findings in more detail showed that: 

  • When asked about the percentage of vulnerable children starting home-schooling due to the outbreak, 14.3% of practitioners estimated that all of their children started home-schooling due to the outbreak, 20.6% said the same for about 3/4 of their children, 12.7% said that for up to half of their children and 25.4% estimated the same for less than ¼ of their vulnerable children. In a similar question, 86.8% of families reported starting home-schooling due to the lockdown, 5.3% always home-schooled their child and 7.9% families continued to send their children to school during the lockdown. When asked about the reasons why families chose home-schooling over formal schooling during the lockdown, qualitative answers highlighted safety of children, family, and teaching staff as the first reason, following governmental guidance and advice from school. An opportunity to shape an own curriculum for the child was also mentioned, as were working commitments of parents that required a tailored timetabling, and anxiety or refusal from the child to go to school even though the option was offered. 


  • In a separate question, 90.5% of practitioners reported seeing an increase in distance learning. Qualitative responses highlighted the main reasons communicated to practitioners by families as following government guidance and protecting the child or family from getting infected with the virus. 


  • When asked practitioners and families about the main person responsible for their children’s schooling at home during the outbreak, their results were similar. According to practitioners, in 77.8% of the cases of children were taught by a parent, in 6.3% of the cases by a hired tutor, in 22.2% of the cases by a teaching staff from their setting, and in 6.3% by a practitioner allocated by the Local Authority. 67.1% of families said that their children were taught by a parent (and less often by a grandparent or other family member), 2.6% said by a hired tutor, 18.4% said by a teaching staff from their setting. When families were asked whether their children were taught on a face-to-face basis (i.e., teaching that includes live interaction between learner and educator either online or in school), 27.6% said that they still had direct interaction with the teacher and 67.1% that they had no direct interaction. When asked about how much learning their children were able to complete independently at home during the outbreak, only 7.5% of families said that their children completed all their learning independently and 16.4% said that they could complete ¼ of learning tasks independently. 17.9% and 22.4% of families reported that their children did between half and ¾ of their learning tasks independently. 35.8% said that their children needed full support by an adult to complete their learning tasks.


  • When asked about whether practitioners changed their views on the feasibility or effectiveness of distance learning, 60.3% responded that they did and 39.7% that they did not change. Follow-up qualitative comments mentioned the difficulties that disadvantaged children faced with accessing learning materials, especially digital resources due to lack of laptops and technology, seeing distance learning as complimenting but not replacing face-to-face in-class learning, realising that digital learning cannot work as a one size fits all as it needs further tailoring to the additional needs of their “vulnerable” learners, and realising the difficulties that some families face in supporting home-learning. Qualitative responses from families highlighted difficulties with completing homework following long instructions on e-mails and interaction with teacher through social media (e.g., Zoom). On the other hand, regular support and planning from school was emphasised as imperative for effective distance learning for a longer term.


  • When asked about the feasibility and effectiveness of home-schooling, practitioners and families’ views seemed to agree. 58.7% of practitioners said that practices during the outbreak did not change their views and 41.3% said that it did.  56.6% of families said that practices during the outbreak did not change their views and 43.4% said that it did. Qualitative responses from practitioners showed varied views among practitioners. Some practitioners felt that in-school education enables academic and social development more effectively than home-schooling. It was also noted that effectiveness of home-schooling depends on factors such as the specific needs of the children, the students themselves, the skills of the parents in supporting learning and home environment. The most popular advantage of home-schooling was allowing pupils to concentrate on learning without worrying about peer pressure. Qualitative comments from families centred around similar concerns with practitioners highlighting a rise in anxiety which flexischooling could resolve, the positive effect of structured schooling, and of regular interaction with their teacher and peers on motivation of children of different ages/needs. Other concerns included family commitments compromising home-schooling under the circumstances of the COVID-19 lockdown, such as work, and less confidence of families in providing specialised support to address their child’s needs. One family member linked home-schooling with educational exclusion if this is forced and not a deliberate choice of the family. Advantages of home-schooling included a positive effect of one-to-one teaching on the child’s progress, increased involvement of families in monitoring their child’s progress and better opportunities to develop life skills. In another question, 82.5% of practitioners and 52.6% of families expressed a worry about children missing out on daily routines at school and struggling with new routines at home. Similarly, 66.7% of practitioners and 44.7% of families expressed a worry about children missing out on structured learning. 


  • When asked how often distance learning equals digital learning in their conversations during lockdown, practitioners and families seemed to agree in their views. 49.2% of practitioners said that they regularly and 23.8% frequently use the terms interchangeably. The rest of the sample did this a little or not at all. In the same question, 40.8% of families said that they regularly and 19.7% frequently use the terms interchangeably, while 25% did this a little and 6.6% not at all. 


  • When asked about monitoring academic performance, 46% and 23.8% of practitioners said that they kept monitoring attendance regularly or frequently mostly with students still attending school during the outbreak. 73% and 19% of them also said that they kept in contact with families/carers regularly or frequently. However, the percentage of practitioners that received distance homework back from their students during the lockdown was relatively low with 14.3% of them saying that they regularly and another 14.3% that they frequently received homework to mark, when 31.7% and 9.5% received homework back from the students a little and not at all. Responses from families reflected similar practices. 17.1% said that they regularly made sure their child completed all the learning tasks set by school, 14.5% that they frequently did so, while 28.9% that they did that a little and 27.6% not at all. Some of the reasons mentioned in qualitative responses from families, were mismatch of school homework with the child’s needs or interests, varied support from school and cases of demand avoidance by the child. 


Digital learning:

On the topic of digital learning, the majority of practitioners reported seeing an increase in the use of digital resources over non-digital resources. The twogroups of participants seemed to agree on their views regarding digital versus non-digital resources. About 1/3 of both groups said practices during the lockdown resulted in them changing their views on digital versus non-digital learning. Qualitative comments highlighted advantages and disadvantages of the two forms of learning. Although a high proportion of both groups reported being confident in finding and using digital learning resources, there were differences in the level of confidence of each group and the impact that learning practices during the lockdown had on the two groups’ rise of confidence. Practitioners reported having extra training on different aspects of using digital learning resources and families discussed guidance received from their child’s setting or their Local Authority on how to support digital learning at home. For about 50% of both groups there was an impact of learning practices during the lockdown on sourcing and evaluating learning materials. Their qualitative comments discuss accessibility, monitoring effectiveness of materials and broadening their repertoire of places to source learning resources. Responses of practitioners and families showed a difference on the theme of sharing learning materials and collaborating with others during the outbreak, with a higher percentage of practitioners interacting with each other to share materials and skills. Qualitative responses from both groups discussed changes in their practice in relation to supporting digital learning, difficulties that they faced along the way and ways to overcome them. 

Findings in more detail showed that: 

  • 90.5% of practitioners said that there is an increase in digital learning during the lockdown, with 49.2% indicating that non-digital resources (i.e., pencil, paper copies) are used 25% of the learning time and 10% of practitioners using digital resources 100% of learning time. 


  • When asked about digital versus traditional paper, pencil face-to-face learning, practitioners and families seemed to agree on their views. 66.7% of practitioners said that their practice during the outbreak did not change their views and 33.3% that it did. Similarly, 69.7% of families said that their practice during the outbreak did not change their views and 30.3% that it did. Qualitative comments from practitioners centred around the advantages of traditional face-to-face learning over digital learning because of the direct interaction with the teacher and peers and highlighted the difficulty some families of “vulnerable” children have with accessing digital resources. Qualitative responses from families referred to changes in their practice, such as using online platforms provided by the child’s setting, and educational videos. Families also highlighted cases of children that find it difficult to engage with digital learning, and choosing to use hardcopies, and print, where possible. In a similar question, families mentioned realising how specific needs remained difficult to support whether in school or at home, the amount of online resources available that schools and families can keep using after the outbreak, the amount of structure and routine children need to progress, but also difficulty in accessing some learning resources and further support needed in addition to using digital resources to consolidate learning. 


  • In another question, 27% of practitioners and 31.6% of families felt over-reliant on new technologies during the outbreak. 


  • When asking about participants’ confidence in finding and using digital resources for learning, the two groups felt overall confident with various levels of skill. 44.4% of practitioners felt quite confident and that they were getting better with use, 25.4% felt confident enough to help colleagues or parents, and 17.5% felt very confident in both finding and using appropriate resources tailored to the learners’ needs. 12.7% of practitioners did not feel confident at all but were getting help from colleagues in using digital resources for learning. In the same question, 38.2% families felt quite confident and they were getting better with use, 7.9% were confident enough to help other families, and 26.3% were very confident in both finding and using appropriate resources tailored to their children’s needs. 27.6% of families did not feel confident at all but were getting help from others in using digital resources for learning. 


  • When asked about whether they gained confidence in the use of technologies during the lockdown, agree got high percentages but practitioners seemed more on board. 70.1% of practitioners said that they now feel more confident and willing to keep using them after the lockdown, while 43.4% of families agreed. 19.7% of families did not gain more confidence in the use of new technologies, with only 8% of practitioners reporting the same. It is interesting that there was a 30% of the whole sample that were indecisive. 


  • When asking practitioners about receiving or providing extra training to staff to respond to the increased demand for digital learning during the lockdown, 25.4% reported that they did not need any because they were already confident in using educational resources before the lockdown, 17.5% said they had training on where/how to find new digital learning material online and 15.9% that the extra training they had was on new digital resources in order to fill in gaps the setting had before the lockdown. 22.2% got general training in how to use educational technologies for learning or specifically how to use resources that were already available in their setting before the lockdown. In a similar question on what type of guidance families receive from their child’s school/LA on how to support digital learning, 47.4% said that their setting sent or recommended digital materials, 27.6% said that they got support on where or how to find digital materials, 2.6% received advice on how to know when a digital material is good for their child’s needs, 10.5% said they did not get any support because they were already confident and 25% that they did not receive any support even if they would have liked some. There was also one case mentioning a mismatch of the resources sent home and the child’s needs and another case reporting a delay in providing support for use of funded intervention. Other families referred to lack of IT equipment to complete set tasks and a lack of alternative support for learning. 


  • On the theme of sourcing resources, 54% of practitioners said that they did not change their views and 46% that they did change. Qualitative answers included more interaction with families, parents contributing learning resources, a rise in opportunities for more inventive thinking and adapting materials to suit the new circumstances, developing awareness of a wider range of resources and collaboration with colleagues about suitable learning materials. On the theme of evaluating learning materials, the views of families seemed to agree with practitioners. 66.7% of practitioners said that their practices and views did not change due to the outbreak and 33.3% that they did. 65.8% of families said that their practices and views did not change due to the outbreak and 34.2% that they did. Qualitative answers from practitioners explained changes, such us the need to make sure that materials are accessible independently by a pupil, collaboration with parents having a positive effect on continuation of learning interventions at home, but also realisation of the difficulty in monitoring the effect of remote support provided through distance learning materials. Qualitative comments from families highlighted working with schools to establish what makes a good learning material for distance learning, having a broader range of resources available for the child than before the outbreak, discovering useful websites to use and an increase in confidence in how to evaluate resources. Comments explaining lack of change mentioned already being confident in evaluating learning resources for the specific needs of their child, but also needing more advice on how do this effectively. 


  • When asked to estimate the percentage of home-schooled vulnerable children that have access to resources meeting their learning, wellbeing and safeguarding needs during the lockdown, 39% and 40.7% of practitioners responded that between ¾ and all of their children have access to such resources, 6.8% and 10.2% said that only between ¼ and half of their children have access and 3.4% felt hat less than ¼ of their children had access to resources. Qualitative responses centred around meeting learning needs by providing hard copies of learning materials, suggesting non-electronic resources, and sharing IT equipment. Wellbeing was also mentioned by fewer participants mainly reporting regular contact of trained staff with the family. 


  • Responses of practitioners and families showed a difference on the theme of sharing learning materials and collaborating with others during the outbreak. 42.9% of practitioners said that they regularly shared learning resources across their setting or collaborate with each other to address the needs of their students during lockdown, and 27% of them reported that they frequently did so. 25.4% of practitioners said that they did that a little and 3.2% that they did not share resources or collaborated with colleagues at all. In a similar question, 9.2% of families said that they regularly share learning resources with other families, and 14.5% of them reported that they shared frequently. 39.5% of families said that they did that a little and 30.3% that they did not share resources at all. Qualitative responses from families highlighted a lack of network of families to share resources with. 


We asked practitioners to tell us what they see as advantages and disadvantages of home learning during the lockdown.

These are shown in order of popularity below:

Advantages Disadvantages
Families are able to work according to their own timetable Less interaction with teachers and peers
Pupils are learning at their own pace Some learning may be hard to access due to not having the resources
Parents are actively involved in their child’s learning Some children may experience lack of support from parents or teacher
No peer distraction Hard for the teacher to give immediate, direct feedback
More options for differentiation and meeting individual needs The learning gap increases with some students falling further behind. The quality of teaching is inconsistent within different households.
Overcoming social stress and anxiety concerns for some pupils Harder for teachers to engage children to learn at home
Development of IT skills Difficulty managing learning time at home and setting an appropriate structure


Criteria for effective resources:

The graph below shows how our respondents choose learning resources for their children during the lockdown. In yellow are the views of families, in blue the views of practitioners and in green are the shared views by both groups. The criteria are presented in order of popularity.


Below is a more detailed list of their responses by theme:

Theme Appears in both groups’ views Appears only in families’ views
Skills to develop Is creative

Is open-ended

Enables choice/ decision making

Enables independence, is unaided/ child-led
Mode of learning Is practical

Is interactive

Appearance Has short activities, is easy/simple to complete, has clear instructions

Is fun, exciting, engaging

Is visual, has videos/pictures

Is predictable
Content Matches interests of child, has an interesting theme Has a variety of tasks
Accessibility Is age appropriate

Is accessible, is differentiated

Is accessible to child and parents, easily available, is accessible online, won’t need printing

Does not overwhelm parents

Can be adapted to suit the child

There are paper copies available

Pedagogical value Learning is scaffolded, learning is based on prior learning

Develops new skills

Gives instant feedback, can be marked/ self- marked

Comes from a trusted source

Has functional and meaningful tasks

Has clear success criteria

Effective for learning


For a collection of online resources that our participants use for distance learning, see our ‘Resources’ page:



Browse the rest of the ‘Results’ sub-pages from the drop down menu in the banner to find out more about participants’ views by theme:

For Practices During COVID- 19: https://blogs.reading.ac.uk/vunerable-children-covid-19/practices-during-covid-19/

For Learning: https://blogs.reading.ac.uk/vunerable-children-covid-19/learning-2/

For Wellbeing, Mental Health and Safeguarding: https://blogs.reading.ac.uk/vunerable-children-covid-19/wellbeing-and-mental-health-2/

For Meeting the Children’s Needs: https://blogs.reading.ac.uk/vunerable-children-covid-19/meeting-the-childrens-needs/

For Reopening Schools: https://blogs.reading.ac.uk/vunerable-children-covid-19/reopening-schools-2/

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