BACK TO SCHOOL: The subjects and topics teachers should focus on

Research reveals the parts of the school curriculum that teachers may need to focus on amid schools reopening UK wide. I also have Q&A with three parents commenting on the news (quotes below the data table).

Clarks analysed Google search trends around questions about five school subjects, many of which saw monthly searches increase dramatically during lockdown homeschooling.

These trends highlight the areas of confusion experienced by parents and pupils while learning at home, and indicate to teachers nationwide the topics they should prioritise for children’s learning.

For instance, there was a big surge in searches for ‘what is a factor in maths’. This question saw a 2485% increase in average monthly searches compared to April 2019 (a year before homeschooling was widespread).

These are the Top 100 most-Googled questions about curriculum topics in English, maths, science, geography and history, giving clues to the subjects that students might need the most help with when returning to school:

Rank Subject Question Average number of monthly searches in the UK % Increase in Google searches from April 2019 Most searched for in…
1 Maths How to work out percentages 49500 149% Newcastle
2 English What is a verb 40500 334% Belfast
3 Maths What is the mean in maths 40500 183% Birmingham
4 Science What is a normal heart rate 40500 150% Glasgow
5 Maths What is a factor in maths 33100 2485% Bristol
6 English What is a noun 33100 333% Belfast
7 Maths What are prime numbers 33100 223% Leicester
8 English What is an adjective 27100 334% Belfast
9 English What is an adverb 27100 273% Manchester
10 Geography What is the population of the UK 22200 1676% Bristol
11 Geography What countries are in Asia 22200 334% Leeds
12 English When to use a semicolon 22200 183% Bristol
13 Science How many bones in the human body 18100 914% Liverpool
14 Geography How many countries in Africa 18100 500% Manchester
15 English What is a preposition 18100 274% Belfast
16 English What is a pronoun 18100 274% Belfast
17 Science Where is your kidney 18100 150% Liverpool
18 Science How many teeth do adults have 14800 409% Leeds
19 Geography How many countries in Europe 14800 334% Leeds
20 Science What is a normal pulse rate 14800 224% Manchester
21 Geography What countries are in the Middle East 14800 183% Leeds
22 Maths How to calculate standard deviation 14800 122% Newcastle
23 Science Who invented the light bulb 12100 409% Newcastle
24 Geography What continent is Australia in 12100 274% Manchester
25 Maths What is a square number 12100 224% Belfast
26 Science What is an organism 12100 183% Birmingham
27 Maths How to add fractions 12100 149% Birmingham
28 Science How long does it take to get to the moon 12100 149% Manchester
29 Science Where is your appendix 12100 149% Bristol
30 Science What is an isotope 12100 149% Manchester
31 Geography What is climate change 12100 100% Glasgow
32 Science Where is your liver 12100 100% Glasgow
33 Geography Where is Mount Everest 9900 336% Glasgow
34 Science Who invented electricity 9900 336% Newcastle
35 Maths What is a vertices 9900 335% Belfast
36 Science How many planets are there 9900 335% Manchester
37 Geography What is a continent 9900 274% Bristol
38 English What is a conjunction 9900 274% Belfast
39 Science What are elements 9900 224% Leicester
40 Science What is an atom 9900 224% Leicester
41 Maths What are factors 9900 223% Birmingham
42 Geography What continent is Russia in 9900 223% Bristol
43 Science What is an independent variable 9900 223% Nottingham
44 Science What are enzymes 9900 183% Leeds
45 Maths How to work out square metres 9900 183% Bristol
46 Science How old is the earth 9900 183% Bristol
47 Maths How to divide fractions 9900 183% Manchester
48 Science What are stem cells 9900 122% Birmingham
49 Geography What is the population of the world 8100 617% Bristol
50 Geography How many counties in England 8100 616% Norwich
51 English What is a synonym 8100 336% Belfast
52 Maths What is a polygon 8100 274% Leicester
53 Geography What is GDP 8100 274% Nottingham
54 Science How many people have walked on the moon 8100 228% Bristol
55 English What is a subordinate clause 8100 224% Birmingham
56 Maths How to convert fraction to decimal 8100 183% Birmingham
57 Maths How to multiply fractions 8100 183% Birmingham
58 English What is a determiner 8100 183% Birmingham
59 Maths What is pi 8100 183% Bristol
60 History Where is Stonehenge 8100 150% Manchester
61 English What is a hyphen 8100 149% Newcastle
62 Geography What is fair trade 8100 123% Belfast
63 Geography What is the population of China 6600 953% Belfast
64 Geography How many oceans are there 6600 411% Bristol
65 English What is a modal verb 6600 224% Nottingham
66 English What is a relative clause 6600 224% Newcastle
67 Geography What is photosynthesis 6600 224% Birmingham
68 Geography What is a hazard 6600 184% Leeds
69 Maths What is an integer 6600 183% Bristol
70 Maths How to work out average 6600 150% Leeds
71 Maths How to work out ratio 6600 123% Birmingham
72 Maths How to work out volume 6600 123% Birmingham
73 Maths How to factorise 6600 122% Newcastle
74 Geography What causes climate change 6600 100% Glasgow
75 History Who discovered penicillin 5400 503% Leeds
76 English What is a proper noun 5400 336% Belfast
77 History Who discovered America 5400 275% Newcastle
78 Geography What animals live in the rainforest 5400 225% Belfast
79 English What is a noun phrase 5400 224% Birmingham
80 English How to use a semicolon 5400 184% Manchester
81 English What is a fronted adverbial 4400 617% Leeds
82 History When did the Berlin Wall fall 4400 338% Glasgow
83 History Why was the Berlin Wall built 4400 275% Bristol
84 History What is the Magna Carta 4400 225% Bristol
85 History When was America discovered 4400 225% Bristol
86 English What is a colon 4400 183% Manchester
87 History What was the Holocaust 4400 152% Belfast
88 English What is a compound word 4400 122% Belfast
89 History When did Winston Churchill die 3600 409% Plymouth
90 History Who discovered Australia 3600 275% Edinburgh
91 History Where did the Vikings come from 3600 228% Belfast
92 History Who discovered electricity 3600 228% Bristol
93 History How were the pyramids built 3600 150% Belfast
94 History How many wives did Henry VIII have 2900 417% Bristol
95 History What caused the Black Death 2900 347% Plymouth
96 History What was the Black Death 2900 347% Plymouth
97 History What was the Industrial Revolution 2900 275% Birmingham
98 History What was the Cold War 2900 225% Newcastle
99 History How old was Queen Victoria when she died 2900 183% Sheffield
100 History When did Queen Victoria died 2900 152% Belfast

36-year-old Katie Camenzuli lives in Hertfordshire and is mum to two children, aged 4 and 7. She said: “Following the latest Government update regarding the opening of schools, I feel extremely positive about my children returning to full time education. I’m relieved that they will be back in their familiar learning environment focusing on their education and being able to interact with their friends who they have missed dearly.”

She added: “While I won’t continue to homeschool, I will be supporting my children outside of school with educational activities, games and increased reading to support the time that they have been out of full-time education. From a personal point of view, I’m relieved to be able to focus solely on work while my children are back at school and to be able to enjoy quality family time free of structured homeschooling!”

Adam Wilson, 37, is a father to two young children and lives in Edinburgh. Both of his kids went back to school and nursery this week. He said: “While it has certainly been a big relief for me, I can’t help but feel guilty knowing that so many parents and kids have to keep waiting. Homeschooling wasn’t too bad, and teacher support has been good: there have been a few specific check-ins over video but largely it was them giving us great daily lists of suggested tasks and sharing links for relevant educational videos. The most rewarding thing about homeschooling was just being able to appreciate how hard a job teachers have. It’s nice to see how teachers build up the basics and feel closer to my children’s learning experience, especially because getting information out of kids on what they learn at school is touch. I’m super happy they’ve reopened schools, but do feel guilty for other parents.”

He added: “This doesn’t mean I’m not concerned about the virus and I’m aware there are risks still out there, but I think as things stand now, everyone is making their own decisions on how they approach their families safety weighed up against overall wellbeing. I certainly think all teachers should get a vaccine; they’re on a par with frontline workers for me.”

In North Wales, 33-year-old Barry Loughran is the father of three children. He said: “The news about schools reopening is great! Because I live in Wales, our 3 and 6-year-olds when back to school this week, but our 10-year-old isn’t due to return until March 15th. My wife and I both work from home so we have been helping with homeschooling throughout the day, which means setting, guiding and marking work for a 3, 6 and 10-year-old. There isn’t a task they can all do to keep them quiet for a sustained amount of time. We’re lucky to work for flexible employers who understand and give us the room to tackle both responsibilities.”

He added: “We will continue with homeschooling where possible though because we’ve seen great progress doing it with our children. We’ve often found the work set by the school lacks any real teaching, more ticking tasks off a list e.g. go and research x topic.  So being able to sit down with our children and teach actual concepts has been good.  One on one teaching has been great for our 6-year-old who has come on so much just by reading and writing daily. Personally speaking, I think the transition from in school to home learning has been a poor one. Our school only recently started having Zoom calls and given we’re in our 11th month it just feels slow.”

Rosie McKissock, Kids Business Manager at Clarks, said: “For so many parents across the UK, it’s back to the homeschooling routine and we wanted to understand what this experience has been like so far for them. Overall, it’s been quite an eye-opener, with 3 in 10 parents surveyed saying their biggest takeaway from their homeschooling experience is they’ll respect and appreciate teachers a lot more, and 23% commenting on how easy it is for adults to forget what they learnt in school. As a parent myself, I totally recognise what this survey describes. It’s been a humbling experience taking on home school for two young children, realising the patience involved in teaching kids as well as the revelation of just how much you have forgotten (or perhaps never knew in the first place!). While government rules mean our high street stores are closed at the moment, we’re continuing our commitment at Clarks to help parents prepare for sending their children back to school when they’re happy to do so. Our foot gauges come in two different sizes, allowing parents to measure and fit their children’s school shoes at home, with step-by-step instructions available on our website or direct from our customer service team to help with the process.”