The new responsibility of home-schooling children during lockdown is a challenge for all parents, but there are additional considerations for separated parents.
The Government’s “stay at home rules” allow for children under 18 to move between their parent’s households and this can allow parents to share the responsibility for home schooling.
The guidance from the President of the Family Division is clear that parents can agree any changes to existing arrangements that will benefit the children during these uncertain times. Obviously, all changes must be child-centred, and courts will expect current arrangements to stay in place save where it is necessary to agree a change, but we are increasingly seeing new and creative solutions from parents grappling with the challenges presented to them in these strange and difficult times.
Where both parents are working and the children already split their time during the school week with each parent, there may be no need to change the arrangements. However, where the arrangements mean that care from Monday to Friday falls to one parent, and that parent now needs to work from home, it might be appropriate to consider whether a variation to the arrangements would assist in helping both parents balance the competing calls on their time from family and work commitments.
Sharing responsibility for home schooling can also give the children the benefit of both parents actively supporting their education at this very difficult time.
Constructive communication between parents is key to the success of these arrangements, enabling them to work together to try to provide a sense of consistency and routine for the children, in their respective households. Most children will be unsettled by the disruption to their schooling and missing their friends. If they can experience a sense of community and organisation between their parents working together to support them and their education, it could make a big difference.
There are modern tools for modern times. It’s a good idea to look at the new apps which are available to separated parents now, such as Our Family Wizard, family WhatsApp groups and Shared online calendars such as Google offer, enabling parents to discuss matters directly, sharing information about timetabling and topics to be covered. These options are dynamic and allow for parents to update and amend as they see what arrangements work best for their children.
Technology also offers an opportunity for parents to engage and participate with home schooling even where the child is not in their household. Projects and learning can take place over Skype, Zoom or Facetime.
Members of the wider family can also be involved, providing new opportunities for relationships with grandparents and other family members to maintain their relationships at this time of social distancing – and maybe give parents a bit of a break!
To avoid confusion, any changes from an existing court order should be agreed in writing between the parents. & if agreement cannot be reached, the default position will always remain the arrangements set out in the Court Order.
Every family is different. Parents will need to consider what works best in their particular circumstances – but communicating helpfully and working together at this difficult time is going to be key to ensuring the best outcome for the children.