How to boost pupil learning and bust parent stress: home-schooling recommendations from psychologists

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Schools should provide daily schedules, feedback on schoolwork, and live online interactions with teachers to keep pupils focused on their home-schooling, urge psychologists at the University of Sussex. To help keep parents’ stress levels down, schools should limit the amount of materials they send to families.

This is according to research undertaken by Dr Matt Easterbrook, Vladislav Grozev and Lewis Doyle, who surveyed 3,569 parents of school-aged children in the UK between 5 May and 31 July 2020. The report, published today, Friday 5 February 2021, analyses the link between the home learning resources provided by schools and the time pupils spent doing homework, how engaged and motivated pupils were, and how stressful and manageable parents found home-schooling.

Dr Matt Easterbrook, Senior Lecturer in the School of Psychology at the University of Sussex and the project’s lead researcher, said:

“Teachers are working incredibly hard to provide home learning resources for their pupils who aren’t in school, while also teaching face-to-face those who are. And parents are often juggling busy jobs with trying to teach their children. This is a challenging time for everyone.

“Our survey of more than 3,500 parents allows us to offer some recommendations regarding what schools and teachers could prioritise to help children learn at home and to support parents in managing home-schooling.

“We found that providing a schedule for pupils to follow throughout the day, giving feedback on their work, and enabling them to interact online with teachers can really make a difference to both pupils and parents.

“Overall, it seems that it’s important for primary schools to offer broader pastoral support – by, for example, providing an opportunity for peers to interact and by contacting parents – whereas secondary schools should focus more on providing educational materials and support.”

For primary school pupils:

  • having a schedule to follow throughout the day was associated with pupils spending an average of 25 additional minutes a day on their schoolwork;
  • receiving feedback was associated with pupils doing an additional 19 minutes a day;
  • interacting live with their teachers was associated with an additional 18 minutes a day; and
  • being able to interact with peers online was associated with an additional 14 minutes a day.

For secondary school pupils:

  • being able to submit work was associated with spending an additional 50 minutes a day home learning;
  • interacting live with their teachers was associated with an additional 32 minutes a day;
  • receiving feedback was associated with an additional 30 minutes a day; and
  • having a schedule to follow was associated with an additional 29 minutes.

Vladislav Grozev, doctoral researcher in the School of Psychology at the University of Sussx, said:

“Clearly, home learning can be a stressful challenge for parents. Our research found that – across both primary and secondary schools – receiving lots of home-schooling materials was associated with higher levels of stress.

“On the other hand, receiving feedback on submitted homework, more information about home-schooling, and a schedule to follow were associated with lower stress levels.

“For primary parents, contact from school staff and the ability for their children to interact with teachers via live videos were associated with lower stress scores.”

The study is published online. The results are based on the responses to an online survey for teachers and parents of school-aged children in the UK. Respondents were recruited mostly via social media advertising (Facebook and Twitter). The sample of parents was boosted with low incomes and of ethnicities other than White British through paid panels.

Last month, other researchers from the School of Psychology at the University of Sussex published home learning guides for schools, which focused on four areas: Contact, Content, Creativity and Community.

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