The Reality of School Recovery
Cathy Williams, Deputy CEO & Karen Bolland, Assessment & Data Manager
Much has been written about school catch-up plans post-Covid, but for those of us working in education it’s clear that we’re not ‘post’ anything yet! With continued disruption due to high case levels, and the usual attendance trials to face through winter, we’re under no illusion that this will be nothing short of another challenging year. Indeed what we’re seeing is very much our new normal.
As the school year began there was a definite sense of optimism, with staff and pupils buoyant, and a feeling of enthusiasm that we’d get a good run at the year. As ever the children’s resilience was inspiring. These early weeks allowed routine and expectations to be re-established and some assessments and analysis to take place.
Generally the same patterns we saw last year have continued, in line with the national picture. Reading has held up better than maths and writing, particularly for the older year groups who were independent readers before lockdowns began. In the lower age groups reading has seen more of an impact, particularly for EAL pupils, some of whom may have had long periods with little English heard or spoken around them.
Different groups of children, of course, have been affected differently to one another, but our Pupil Premium gap hasn’t worsened, sitting around national rates. There’s early evidence that some pupils are reversing the usual ‘summer slide’ (and even the ‘Covid slide’) too. This is encouraging, especially when looking at our current Year 6 against the last SATs results from 2019, which shows fairly stable data. So we hope that the impact may not be as significant as first feared.
With this in mind, it’s clear that some of the schemes and approaches we’ve introduced have stood us in very good stead. Our Trust-wide use of Accelerated Reader, Inspire Maths and Times Table Rockstars, alongside initiatives including a Summer Reading Challenge, are helping. The widespread delivery of IT into homes during lockdowns has enabled children to remain connected with their learning outside of school – both for homework and during any periods of isolation. And alongside this is the enduring strength of our school network; our MAT structure has given school leaders the support they need from each other and from our central team during difficult times. A shared ethos, and the ability to call on guidance and advice almost round the clock has been invaluable.
There are also a range of the usual initiatives in place; we’re just using them in different ways to secure the best effect. Extra sessions of ‘Snappy Maths’ are consolidating pupils’ recall of basic operations. Targeted reading groups, phonics refreshers and additional handwriting practice continue, along with interventions (boosted with tutoring funding too). Emotional support via PSHE lessons has been adjusted to ensure an emphasis on social skills, friendship and online safety, to address those issues which lockdowns exacerbated.
Many children will of course need additional support - whether for learning (including extra challenge for the more able, as well as catch up plans) or well-being reasons. Certainly there is no quick fix, particularly when we consider our very youngest learners, who’ve started school without the usual nursery experience. This has resulted in generally more poorly-developed social skills and some speech and language concerns too.
We’re mindful of the ‘long tail’ these younger learners may face, but the here and now is the immediate priority. In fact, the most amazing thing our schools are doing is providing a much needed sense of normality for the children – each and every day. Creativity is being applied to deliver a diverse and interesting curriculum, as well as the usual experiences of trips, in-school visits and Christmas productions. Some lovely projects have finally seen completion too – including the restoration of our peer mediation programme and, most recently, the completion of a brand new library for the children at Medmerry. This was opened by Ali Sparkes, the award-winning children’s author.
For children, these elements combine to create a sense that all is well at school, enabling them to learn in a fun and supportive environment. And this despite school leaders often feeling like the proverbial swans: producing that serene and calm feel whilst legs paddle furiously below the surface!