How will schools manage the disparity in capability between children post-lockdown
The divide between the disadvantaged and the supported is unlikely ever to have been wider than it is as we emerge from lockdown. The DfE have taken steps to support children by extending access to technology and by promoting resources. The EdTech industry has been as one in providing resources, support and training. And yet some children still slip through the net.
What do we mean by disadvantage?
Ultimately, disadvantage comes in many forms and a key issue is the type environment in which children grow and develop – not the resources they have to hand. There are homes that will have been greatly supported by the opportunities that improved access to technology has provided. But equally there will be technology rich families where guidance and support to use it appropriately is not forthcoming. There are homes in which everyday provides learning opportunities and those where time, pressure and lifestyle mean that opportunity is lost.
What do we do to compensate for usual summer learning loss?
Each summer as schools enter their long break, we discuss the impact of Summer learning loss. We prepare, we offer resources. But there is rarely a concerted and coordinated effort to address the issues. Many schools set summer holiday tasks, but with limited follow-up and very little evaluation of the impact. But this is cultural. This is expectation. This is the system. The final weeks of July mark many things, not least the sheer exhaustion of a year’s effort where time and tide stand still for no one. Teachers and the children alike are invariably shattered as the end of school year approaches. They need to wind down, they need a change of routine, space to recharge batteries. The summer holiday provides that. Homework is set and some time is given to do it, but how many projects go uncompleted, how many are returned but never properly marked, assessed or celebrated.
New school year – new school year group
The summer break also marks the transition to new year groups. The move to new schools. The rites of passage. There is an inevitable break in continuity. Children move from one class to the next in an inexorable procession. What one teacher sets at the start of the holiday is rarely picked up by the next. Or the successor teacher rarely has enough time with their new charges ahead of the summer break to make effective use of the five to six weeks away. But in any case, children need different experiences, need different opportunities, equally valuable but fundamentally different to those found in school.
Lockdown was a circumstance no one could plan for
Lockdown has been different. It was thrust upon us with little notice. The world changed overnight. Teachers and children were eagerly anticipating the Easter break, but were knee deep in projects, courses, in learning. Some possibly had a focus on the rapidly approaching exams. SATs in primary schools will already have been considered, preparation made, booster classes primed. And then nothing. No school (except of course for the children of key workers). Schools found themselves in the weirdest of circumstances. They were open but closed at the same time or, were they closed but open? Teachers worked to provide continuous learning. Remote learning became key. Online learning became a thing again!
We’ve seen some brilliant examples of schools teaching remotely
Schools worked hard to provide continuity, through remote and online learning. There are fantastic examples of success. Schools such as Barton Hill Academy, Boxford Primary and the Cuckoo Hall Academy Trust are to be celebrated amongst many others. Their extensive use of technology to support learning ahead of lockdown made transition from one phase to another much smoother.
Not all schools have been lucky enough with their provisions
But other schools without either the provision or culture have struggled somewhat. A school local to me focused on physical learning packs. They struggled to provide activities for children for more than a few days before they switched to using their website to push out more activity. Even where success abounds and can be celebrated, there will be children that have slipped through the net. There are families that will simply not have engaged.
What happens next?
And so, as children return to school there is much to do. These children (their teachers and parents) have been through something that has never been experienced for generations – if ever. These children will have many needs. Not least will be their well-being and mental and emotional health. These are strange times. Conventions that have held for years have been turned on their head. Children are resilient, but these times are exceptional. Children’s basic needs will need to be catered for before we can anticipate them learning some abstract and disconnected concepts.
Yes, teaching will resume much as before, but the support required for some children is likely to be beyond that previously experienced. And some children will have been left behind and for them we must find ways of enabling them to catch up without pressure, without labelling them, but through meeting their needs. Opportunities for these children means rebuilding connections, re-establishing peer relationships, providing them with enrichment activity, supplementary learning opportunities with appropriate levels of teacher guidance and intervention. And teachers will need support too. They will need the materials, resources and opportunities to enable the catch-up programmes and activities required.
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