Business management

Education disruption – and how to cope

Juggling homeschooling with running a business is a monumental task for parents or caregivers who are striving to stay operational while supporting their children’s education during a third national lockdown.

How to cope with Education Disruption

As the Mental Health Foundation explains, the sudden and often inconsistent changes we are experiencing as new restrictions are announced and imposed are likely to leave many children and young people feeling uncertain. Pupils may worry things that used to feel safe and predictable, such as school, may no longer be something they can rely on.

There may also be a great deal of uncertainty for parents and caregivers. Many families will be navigating a lot of different systems and guidelines as different measures are announced. The impact of further outbreaks on income and pupils’ attendance at school will be a source of worry for many families.

You and your older children can make use of the practical guidance on websites like the Mental Health Foundation, the NSPCC, the NHSMind and YoungMinds, which says: “You might be finding it harder than ever at the moment to know how to best look after your child’s mental health and well-being, as well as your own. If you’re struggling, you are not alone. We have advice and tips that can really help.”

While many schools have improved their homeschooling processes – moving lessons and content online to ensure a better learning experience for pupils – access to online learning can still be a problem. For example, one in five parents of school-aged children has had to share their devices with their children to juggle the demands of remote working and homeschooling, according to research from Nominet.

However, Rosemary Blackburn, headteacher at The Firs Prep School in Chester, believes that many business owners already possess attributes that can help them, even though they might not realise it yet. She says: “Although they are time-poor, business owners are often well organised and disciplined, while the ability to motivate and inspire should come naturally to those who are using their people skills on a daily basis.”

Organisation and routine are key

The time pressures of running a business make effective organisation paramount to overcoming some of the challenges of homeschooling.

Bridget Daley, founder of Parents in Biz and editor of Parents in Business Magazine has this advice: “Organise and prepare your child’s schoolwork and activities in advance and schedule in activities that your child can do independently,” she says. “Create a timetable that fits around your business schedule, for example, making client calls and packing orders, and set up a work environment for your child; let them get involved with the design.”

Sticking to a routine is also key, says Carl Morris, principal of Carfax College. He says: “Juggling a business and homeschooling is a huge challenge, and a big part of that can be the disruptions. Try to avoid interruptions by encouraging older children to seek out answers themselves using good online resources such as BBC Bitesize, and encourage them to write down questions that you or their teachers can help with later.”

Organise and prepare your child’s schoolwork in advance and schedule in activities that your child can do independently. Create a timetable that fits around your business schedule and set up a work environment for your child

Bridget Daley
Founder, Parents in Biz and editor at Parents in Business Magazine

Homeschooling also provides opportunities for youngsters to work on subjects they might not get the chance to study at school, with some excellent courses online covering topics such as robotics and coding.

Tom Crombie, director and founder of My Online Schooling, says: “Many platforms are providing a wealth of content online to support homeschooling, from the BBC’s dedicated educational programming to free daily Facebook Live lessons from online schools. Often, parents worry about whether an online lesson can hold their child’s attention, however, we have seen incredible engagement from our pupils because of the online nature of their education.”

Overcoming exam anxieties

The scrapping of GCSE and A-level exams this year, due to the ongoing impacts of the pandemic, has brought additional stress and anxiety for older children, sparking fears over the impact on their future. Daley’s advice is to reassure those affected that all the hard work they have put in working up to this point will not be in vain and to talk to them regularly about how they are feeling.

She adds: “Get factual information from the school on what will happen next, how it will happen and when it will happen, and contact colleges your child is keen to attend and find out what procedures they have in place regarding how places will be allocated.”

Parents can also alleviate some of their children’s anxieties by getting them to focus on the flexibility of time periods. Former headteacher Leon Hady says: “Instead of thinking they must do GCSEs by 16 and A levels by 18, reassure them that they can take exams, start jobs, change careers all at various times around the expected period, and help them understand that opportunities will always be available.”

It is also important to remember that while exam results are important, they are just one part of a much bigger picture and that a youngster’s future education and career prospects are based on more than a final result.

As Alec Dobbie, CEO and co-founder of FanFinders points out, when it comes to entering the world of work, many employers are less concerned about grades and qualifications and more interested in the person.

He says: “Youngsters can make themselves stand out by using the extra time during lockdown to learn new skills, for example, coding, languages, or the basics of accounting. Teach yourself something that school wouldn’t. Set up a small online business. Do something that makes you unique.”

Supporting apprentices as they learn

For youngsters who’ve already made the move from school to career via an apprenticeship, lockdown still has its challenges. Apprentices need to complete training, which can be done virtually from home, depending on the industry sector, but it means they are missing out on the real workplace experience that is essential to their professional development and the speed at which they progress. Support from their employer during lockdown is vital.

Katrina Cliffe, managing director at marketing agency KC Communications, recruited an apprentice last August and plans to hire another in the coming months. She says: “She joined us when we were still able to be in the office, albeit operating at a reduced capacity, however, she found the second lockdown quite difficult, so as a team we made sure that we were checking in and reassured her that it was OK to contact us and ask questions.

“As we emerged from the second lockdown we arranged for her to work in the office full-time, rearranging our rota to keep staff numbers to a minimum. We make sure that our apprentices have a very clear work timetable so that, as their tasks are added, we know what is being done, and when, rather than leaving them to wait for work, or having to chase us for something to do.”

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

In order to properly support their children, parents need to also ask for support themselves when they need it, says Sarah-Jane Butler, CEO and founder of Your Employee Wellbeing.

“Most parents who are working, particularly those who are self-employed or running their own businesses with little outside support, will be feeling the added pressure of helping with remote learning. Burnout is very real and trying to allocate your time equally between the two is honestly a fairy tale. My advice is always to take help when it is offered (or in this case, allowed!). While the UK is in lockdown and we are all working from home you are still ‘allowed’ to have those who look after your children come into your home. Whether this is paid-for nannies, tutors or grandparents, as long as you provide a Covid-safe environment, they can be in your house. If you don’t or can’t have someone in your home, then you could look at a virtual tutor for a focused period each day. This will afford you the opportunity to concentrate on time-pressured or intensive tasks.”

Whether it is for two hours or seven hours, any help can give you that crucial space to breathe, says Butler: “Don’t forget, though, that it is very important to give time to yourself. If you break down, you won’t be any use to your business or your family. So even if it’s asking an aunt or a friend to take your children for a walk, take time for yourself to recharge. It will help you and your business cope much better.”

It’s OK if things don’t always feel OK

Try and be kind to yourself, advises the Mental Health Foundation. Take time when you can to have a break and do the things that help you relax during challenging times. These will be different for everyone and their circumstances – it could be reading a book, watching a film, having a bath, reaching out to friends or doing some exercise.

Spend time together, as well as alone

Many people are enjoying being able to play or do things they wouldn’t normally have time to do with their children. Having said that, while time together is important, trying to be a perfect family can also pile on the pressure. Give your children, especially teenagers, space so they can be alone and do what they want to do. As can you.

Try out a new winter routine

If you’ve been spending a lot of time at home you may already have a steady routine. But it may be helpful to think about how you can adapt this for the cold winter months.

A sense of change can help if you’re struggling with how long the pandemic is continuing. You could spend time cooking and trying some new winter recipes, learning a new skill, or taking up a new exercise. Although the coronavirus pandemic may mean that your choices are more limited, try to focus on the things you can change. It might be helpful to list the things you can change on one piece of paper and all the things you can’t on another.

The Mind website has excellent tips for taking care of your mental well-being.

Homeschooling resources

The BBC has expanded its educational offering across more of its platforms, including BBC Two, CBBC, BBC Red Button and BBC iPlayer. This helps enable all children to access curriculum-based learning, regardless of whether they have access to the internet.

BBC/ITV – a roundup of TV learning programmes for youngsters.

The SchoolRun is a wealth of resources for parents of primary school children.

Twinkl is a teaching resource site with access for homeschooling parents.

MyTutor videos is a platform that offers recorded group tutorials and explainer videos that can be accessed when needed.

S-cool caters to a range of Key Stages with resources for 27 GCSE and A-level subjects, ranging from revision tips and example questions to topic summaries.

SaveMyExams – GCSE and A-level exams may have been cancelled, but exam-orientated material, including sample questions, past papers, model answers, and revision guides can be valuable when it comes to learning.

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