State school heads who block teachers from hosting live online lessons due to privacy concerns have sparked confusion among critics who ask why educators can’t just pick a different background.
Headteachers claim live-streaming lessons from inside a teacher’s home is a ‘huge invasion of privacy’ and takes away ‘professional distance’.
And teachers’ union NASUWT is strongly advising members to avoid live lessons unless there are measures in place to avoid privacy breaches.
But perplexed teachers and school governors have asked why teachers don’t utilise Zoom’s ‘virtual background’ feature – or present in front of a blank wall.
Zoom offers users the option to pick from a set selection of ‘sample backgrounds’ or upload their own – meaning the user’s face can appear in front of any image they choose.
Others have asked why teachers don’t go into schools to teach their remote lessons from an empty classroom.
Most independent schools and top-performing state schools have rolled out full days of live lessons via Zoom and other video platforms since the new national lockdown came into force
Pauline Wood, head teacher at Grange Park Primary School in Sunderland, said she was ‘at a loss’ as to why live Zoom lessons could be deemed a privacy breach.
She told MailOnline: ‘Teachers can set up their own devices in a position which suits them surely.
‘If in school, it is no different from a regular lesson. If at home, choose a blank background?’
Militant teaching unions – which strongly urged teachers not to live-stream lessons last summer – said teachers must be able to choose whether to live-stream lessons or not and that it should only be used ‘when essential’.
The National Education Union appeared to suggest that only pushy parents want live lessons, adding that the call for live teaching is ‘often related to minority, but insistent, parental pressure’.
Guidance from the NASUWT teaching union even raises privacy concerns about pupils recording teachers’ live lessons on their phones and uploading them to pornography websites.
Pauline Wood, head teacher at Grange Park Primary School in Sunderland, said she was ‘at a loss’ as to why live Zoom lessons could be deemed a privacy breach
The union ‘strongly advises members to not participate in live video lessons to pupils’ homes unless they are sure that measures are in place to prevent such inappropriate practices’.
School governor and former-teacher Calvin Robinson said he understands that some schools don’t allow teachers on the premisis to teach remotely.
But he said a different digital background is a possible alternative.
He said: ‘It depends if they’re allowed in schools, some have sent everyone home without the option to come back.
‘I can relate, my mother’s a lecturer and she expressed those same concerns, but she just blurs out her background.
‘It can make people feel uncomfortable, but there are methods you can take.
‘What I’d like to see is children back in classrooms’.
Mike Power, teacher and head of year in Manchester, said using an alternate background is ‘a sensible approach’.
He said: ‘There will be steps people can take to keep the intrusion to a minimum such as blurring backgrounds, even removing photos from a wall to use as a blank background if necessary.
‘No teachers are sat thinking how can I avoid delivering live lessons, which at times it can feel like that’s what people think.
Teachers fundamentally want to teach as best they can in the circumstances.’
Last night, anxious parents demanded state schools ramp up live online classes as experts warned that a lack of real-time lessons threatened to widen the gulf in equality between state and private pupils.
Most independent schools and top-performing state schools have rolled out full days of live lessons via Zoom and other video platforms since the new national lockdown came into force. But large numbers of secondaries and primaries, particularly in poorer areas, are relying on pre-recorded lessons, YouTube videos and online worksheets for their pupils.
In a poll of 800 parents last week, almost a third said their children were not receiving any live lessons, suggesting that as many as three million pupils may not be having interactive video contact with their teachers during the lockdown.
A mother from Buckinghamshire told The Mail on Sunday: ‘They need live lessons otherwise they are going to fall behind and may never be able to catch up.’
The National Education Union appeared to suggest that only pushy parents want live lessons, adding that the call for live teaching is ‘often related to minority, but insistent, parental pressure’. Pictured: Isla Stanton, 14, learning from home in Ashford, Kent
Leading educationalist Professor Alan Smithers warned that some children were missing out on their education completely and their life chances could suffer.
He said: ‘Children want to learn in real-time and thrive by interacting and learning with their friends. Pre-recorded lessons are no way near to being in school.
‘Not having children together in the classroom is increasing the unevenness of the educational experience and exacerbating inequality, and so is having this divide between schools that are offering live-streamed lessons and those that are not.’
Chris McGovern, chairman of The Campaign for Real Education, said it was ‘outrageous’ that disadvantaged children risked being ‘thrown on the scrap heap’.
He added: ‘It shows the price we are paying for closing schools. The gap between the better off and worse off is getting wider.’
Tory MP Robert Halfon, chairman of the Commons Education Select Committee, called for Education Secretary Gavin Williamson and regulators Ofsted to establish more detailed national guidelines for online teaching.
He said: ‘Some state schools are doing fantastic work rolling out live-streamed lessons and I can’t see why this cannot be replicated across the board. We cannot leave children behind. Children who are struggling and suffering at home need interaction with teachers, and live lessons make a world of difference.’
After schools were closed on Tuesday, teachers flooded social media with complaints that they did not want to deliver lessons via video platforms.
Cassie Young, head of Brenzett CofE Primary School in Romney Marsh, Kent, said: ‘I can’t and won’t agree to my staff doing live lessons. The pressure, safeguarding and workload would result in burnout.
‘Pre-recorded works just as well, keeps people safe and allows pupils to work at a pace that suits them, freeing up staff to support.’
She claimed ‘professional distance’ was needed, adding: ‘Working at home and seeing inside people’s homes feels like a huge invasion of privacy.’
One primary teacher in Manchester said that she ‘felt sick’ with nerves over leading live lessons, adding: ‘The fact it’s my home does feel invasive.’
Jo Campbell, headteacher at Ore Village Primary Academy in Hastings, added: ‘I won’t put that pressure on my staff and I have too many safeguarding concerns. Pre-recorded sessions are enough.’
In a poll of 800 subscribers to the Parent Ping education app last week, only eight per cent of parents said their child had received more than five hours of live lessons that day. Some 13 per cent said their children were in live lessons for three to four hours and 11 per cent reported one to two hours. Nearly a third (31 per cent) said their children had no live lessons and 11 per cent had less than one hour.
Government guidance says primary school pupils should have an average of three hours work a day, and secondary school pupils should have at least four, with lessons delivered by teachers through ‘curriculum resources or video’
Parents told The Mail on Sunday that their children were not being set enough work. One mother from Kent said: ‘My 17-year-old daughter goes to a grammar school and has live lessons on Microsoft Teams all day. My 14-year-old son goes to a comprehensive and has no live lessons. He finishes his work in half an hour and would be on the PlayStation if I wasn’t telling him to read back through previous work.’
Another mother from Buckinghamshire said: ‘My children’s school is doing one live lesson a day private schools locally are doing a full diet of live lessons and after-school clubs with their boys.’
Paul Woods, principal of Westminster Academy in Central London, said his school was continuing with the full timetable, with all lessons live-streamed to all 1,100 pupils.
He said: ‘Every child has been given a Google Chromebook and we are sticking to our normal timetable. We like having the real-time interaction, not just for education reasons but we can monitor our students’ emotions at a time when things may be difficult for them.
‘Teachers are able to see in real time how a child is coping and whether they are adapting well in these challenging times.
‘It’s certainly not a substitute for being in the classroom but it’s the next best thing.’