Lisa Murtagh: Home Educating during the COVID-19 Pandemic ‘Tears and Treats’

by | Apr 7, 2020 | Faculty of Humanities | 7 comments

Lisa Murtagh, Head of Initial Teacher Education, in the School of Environment, Education and Development (SEED), shares her experiences of home schooling.

All of a sudden, many of us have found ourselves in the novel position of being a home-educator. From a personal perspective, the past few weeks have been fraught with tears (mine and my son’s) and the reward of lots of treats (movies and sweets). I am currently the Head of Initial Teacher Education at the University of Manchester and have been involved in education for over 25 years. On that basis, you may assume that I have got this home education lark ‘nailed’. I haven’t!

My experiences so far have ranged from being a compassionate and caring mother, calmly soothing my son’s brow as he tried to solve the area of a sector using ‘pi r squared’, to that of grumpy, moody mother arguing with my son and husband about Hooke’s law and the use of quadrats to count daffodils in fields. I may be a teacher, but I do not have the answers – for my son, or any of you reading this. What I am is a mother at home, struggling with competing demands, in what is frankly an unprecedented and frightening time of our lives.

What I can offer you is this. Neither you, nor I are teachers (in the ‘formal’ meaning of the word) to our children – primarily we are their parents/carers. There may be ‘teaching’ demands being placed on us, in the absence of school-based daily lessons, but first and foremost our role is to provide our children with reassurance – the current state of affairs is frightening for them at the moment and they need to know we are doing our best to keep them safe. We need to offer them our time and company; they will be missing the social interaction of their friends at school – and somewhat surprisingly their teachers!

Children need normality, familiarity and structure and so I am trying to stick to a routine. We all know that this is not a holiday, and that routines will help us to get through the days, but by the same token, sticking to a routine can also be incredibly hard. We are currently having fun with Joe Wicks’ morning PE – although this is far more exhausting than I imagined it would be. But this morning my son was shattered after spending hours online completing school work yesterday – so he had a lie in this morning and I gave him a note to miss PE!

I originally set my son up a desk in his room. I thought I was doing the right thing in trying to ‘formalise’ his online learning setting. However, I effectively isolated him during a period of isolation – he became tearful and frustrated, so he now sits at my dining room table with me as I ‘zoom’ in and out of meetings – and that’s OK – this works for us, but may not for others. We spend lots of time thinking about what joy the day can bring – typically centred around new meals and treats we can cook together, and movie sets (currently the Hunger Games – the irony doesn’t escape me!) we can watch in the evening as a family.

Many schools have been providing lots of activities for children to undertake – this will inevitably be very varied as individual schools and teachers try to come to terms with new ways of engaging children in remote learning. We need to be patient with this. But there are lots of great resources out there that we can tap into, to make learning as fun as it can be. My colleagues and I have compiled a list of useful links that we are available on the University of Manchester SEED StaffNet page to provide you all with a little help during this time:

Home Schooling resources

The point I am trying to make is that during this time, there is no one-size fits all approach to home-educating and particularly when you are also remote-working. So I am advising that those of you out there that are trying to make the days feel ‘like school’ – it’s just not possible, so give yourselves and your children a break. Of course it is important to keep on top of your child’s learning, but this has to be balanced. Enjoy the sunshine whilst you can and go out for a walk with your children. Cope with the tears, and have lots of treats.

Useful links:
University of Manchester Parent Support Group on Yammer
SEED Staffnet page resources


  1. Meriel Maddocks

    Many thanks Lisa, a very supportive and appreciated post!

  2. Rosa Archer

    Thank you Lisa for putting in words what we are all feeling but failing to articulate in words. When my son, who has ADHD, was struggling revising for his a levels last year somebody suggested working at the dining table while I was doing my own work and this was the best piece of advice I have ever had.

  3. Denise Bowler

    Thanks Lisa – great to know that we’re not the only parents experiencing challenges with home schooling even when your children are compliant. Definitely going with with the balanced approach with lots of reassurance and fun things to do!

  4. Lorena Fernandez Sanchez

    Love this post Lisa; having to home-school and work at the same time is hard!

  5. Lorraine Elphick

    Wow Lisa, what a wonderful post !!!! I am sure that this will help and re-assure so many ‘at home’ parents who are struggling to keep up with their children’s education, and feel constantly like they are failing at least or falling way way short, I am certainly going to copy and paste this to a few of my friends who will benefit from your wise words.

  6. Julian Skyrme

    Dear Lisa, many thanks for sharing this advice; this will be invaluable for many of our staff to hear this from you.

  7. Victoria Roberts

    Great post Lisa, thanks!


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