We’ve got a lot of catching up to do

As teachers prepare to welcome all pupils back into their classrooms, Alex Galvin, SSAT Senior Education Lead, considers why leaders are designing longer-term recovery plans to support their pupils rather than rapid catch-up programmes

With all pupils returning to school next week, there has understandably been a lot of discussion about the road ahead. Many have stressed the urgency of supporting pupils to catch up on lost learning and there has been talk of extended school days, tutoring and summer schools.

Talking to many school leaders over recent weeks, a different emphasis emerges. While of course there are concerns about the needs of those pupils who have found it difficult to learn under the circumstances of the last year, the picture of academic catch-up is different to that frequently painted in the press. Firstly, in many cases, there are not huge academic gaps. Thanks to some quick thinking and rapid learning, many teachers have become skilled at delivering online learning. Different doesn’t necessarily mean worse. Secondly, many schools and teachers are confident that they have the expertise to support their pupils in filling gaps. Learning is often revisited in curriculum delivery in usual times and there are always occasions where pupils need support in catching up. Most school leaders are not thinking in terms of a rapid programme of ‘catch-up’ – more of a long-term approach which focuses on effective formative assessment and adjustment to curriculum plans as needed.

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Rather than talk of a ‘lost generation’, our young people need to be commended for the way they have adapted

After this period of social isolation and the loss of usual routines, the last thing pupils need is to return to a pressurised environment. The ‘catch up’ that is needed is more with friends, with the school community and with the rhythms and routines of school life. Last year, many pupils felt the loss of their expected rites of passage, the usual support at transition points and the relationships that underpin their academic development. This summer, the activities that support a school’s sense of community will be more important than ever – sports days, cross-curricular weeks, celebrating successes.

A headteacher I spoke to this week talked about the importance of providing a safe space where pupils can let off steam and let some of the stress of the last year go. She, like many other leaders, has been talking with her team about preparing to rebuild pupils’ sense of safety and belonging before seeking to plug gaps in content.

At SSAT, we have been delighted to see these sentiments reflected in comments from Kevan Collins, who has been tasked with supporting pupils and schools in this period. We welcome his use of the phrase “a recovery plan” rather than “catch-up.” We are glad that he is choosing to emphasise the importance of wider school life and the wellbeing of young people. Rather than talk of a ‘lost generation’, our young people need to be commended for the way they have adapted in challenging circumstances and for the new skills many have acquired in this period. Rather than focusing on a deficit model, school leaders and teachers should be commended on all of the effective teaching and learning that has taken place against the odds. Teachers and school leaders are skilled at making things work and we need to have confidence that they will find the right ways to get pupils back on track over the next few years.

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