Updated: Jun 26
Caching up after Covid 19 for the most vulnerable learners?
Following the Minister for Education, Kirsty Williams announcement that schools will return on 29th of June, schools now have a time scale and can begin to create a road map of how we might start to return to normal. She repeated sound bite “Check in, Catch up and Prepare” as she outlined her plan for schools to open in a staggered manner in preparation for September. The phrase “Catch up” may well have sent many teachers and heads into a frenzy as this could imply that we will have to cram the last 10 weeks of ‘lost learning’ into three weeks before the summer. In one study by The Cooper et al (1996) conducted in Canada on the impact of summer vacation found that:
“The headline estimate for summer learning loss was 10% of a standard deviation, or about one month of learning, slightly higher in maths and lower in reading, and increasing with age, at least in reading. They estimated that in reading and language, “on average, summer vacations created a gap of about 3 months between middle- and lower-class students” (p261). However, “the meta-analysis revealed no differential effect of summer on the mathematics skills of middle- and lower-class students”
Therefore, it would be safe to assume that it would be impossible to regain all this lost learning in a small-time frame before the summer holidays. ‘Catching up’ on the wellbeing and mental health of pupils and staff, particularly those who are more vulnerable will be far more important than addressing issues in standards in the coming weeks.
Having said that the Education Endowment Foundation have released a report entitled “Impact of school closures on the attainment gap: Rapid Evidence Assessment”. This report looks at the potential impact of school closures on the performance of free school meal pupils and suggests that the ‘school closures are likely to reverse the progress made to narrow the gap in the last decade.’Suggesting that in a worst-case scenario the gap could widen by 75%, and at best only 11%. With the median estimate indicates that the gap will widen by 36%. This is an incredibly worrying headline and begs the question how can 10 years’ worth of work be undone in just 10 weeks?
First and fore most it is important to understand that ‘eFSM’ or ‘Pupil Premium’ as a label does not adequately describe the group. They are not a homogenous vulnerable group of learners. Secondly the report draws on examples of the impact of school closures that are not coronavirus, so the evidence and findings should be should be viewed as an impact guide. Having said that pupils who are made more vulnerable due to poverty share a number of characteristics:
Given that this group of pupils is 3 times more likely to be absent in normal schooling. There is a significant risk that when schools formally open even higher levels of absence pose a risk for disadvantaged pupils. This is further complicated by the fact that schools will not return to ‘normal’ form some time. So, what can schools do to ensure that these pupils do not continue to fall further behind?
First and fore most schools can develop a long-term action plan that can mitigate the impact of time away from school and learn some important lessons from the way in which schools have had to work over the last 10 weeks. Whilst it has been very difficult time, it is also important to recognise the positives which have arisen. For example, many schools have developed flexible ways of remote learning, and the thorny issue of digital deprivation has finally been forced to the forefront, with welsh government promising to provide hardware and broadband connection for the most vulnerable pupils.
Any action plan should have two key areas as outlined in the report:
1. Supported Learning at Home
“Parental engagement in children’s learning and the quality of home learning environment are associated with improved academic outcomes at all ages (EEF,2020b)”
Whilst as school leaders we have very little control over the child’s home learning environment, perhaps one of the positives that has come out of the situation is the number of parents who have engaged in home learning. Schools need to continue to develop and maintain two-way communications promoting for example reading habits, and the mastery of basic skills. Like wise remote learning providing access to high quality teaching and resources via technology has the potential to support more vulnerable learners. But it is not the quantity of remote learning accessed but the quality that is important, and should be considered as part of a school’s longer-term plan to catch up:
“A rapid evidence assessment on remote learning conducted by the EEF, also emphasised that the pedagogical quality of remote learning is more important than how lessons are delivered. Ensuring the elements of effective teaching are present – for example; clear explanations, scaffolding and feedback – is more important than how or when they are provided (EEF, 2020a). It is unlikely that providing pupils with access to resources without support will improve learning.”
2. Supported catch up after pupils return to school
The factor that has the greatest impact on closing the gap is high quality teaching. As a former stragic advisor for closing the gap, I have always maintained that the only real way to close the achievement gap it to foster a pedagogy and culture in school that will ensure no gaps occur. This is perhaps the most widely used slide I have, and it crops up in all of my training programmes, and it makes this point perfectly:
The estimated Impact of one-to-one tuition is 5 additional months progress and “An evaluation of low- cost tutoring delivered by university students showed a positive impact on learning of three additional months’ progress (Torgerson, 2018).” So, schools need to consider how can they make targeted intervention a core part of their action plan? Remember this doesn’t necessarily have to be done by teaching staff.
Prioritising effective CPD will be another essential part of the school’s plan these might include ensuring high-quality materials are available for early career teachers linked to the Early Career Framework; online courses linked to the best available evidence on improve literacy and maths; and online courses linked to pedagogical approaches that are likely to be particularly effective for disadvantaged learners, e.g. metacognition.
Finally sustained support will be required to help disadvantaged pupils catch-up after they return to school. While a focused catch-up programme – including assessment and targeted support – would be beneficial when pupils first return to school, it is unlikely that a single catch-up strategy will be sufficient to compensate for lost learning due to school closures. There for a longer term ‘keep up’ programme will be required as part of the schools wider action plan.
The Right Learning Company has significant experience of working with schools with issues relating to closing the achievement gap.If you would like support, advice or training then please get in touch with us on 02922 407733 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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