Recovery plans needed as clock ticks on ‘return to school’

12th February 2021

With increasing pressure on the Government it seems clear that a return to school in some form will take place in March. While we have published a ‘Roadmap to Reopening’ with proposals for a safe return, that is only the start, with plans around longer term recovery and system reform urgently needed.

‘Catch up’ and ‘recovery’ are terms that have become buzzwords in the education sector since as early as last spring, when children had only seen a few weeks of disruption in their learning. Now almost a year on, children have lost six months in school, and seen almost a full academic year significantly disrupted. Whilst schools have done their utmost to minimise the impact through remote learning, there is no replacement for learning in school, and the impact on mental health, and social and emotional development, as well as academic learning, has potentially been huge. Although the Government has made money available for ‘catch up’ through the National Tutoring Programme, this has not seen significant levels of engagement and has been stalled due to further lockdown and school closures. There is also a widespread feeling that this will simply not be enough to deal with the impact of Covid-19, with no modification to the curriculum and a persistence from the Department for Education in returning to high stakes accountability measures as soon as possible.

While Sir Kevan Collins has been appointed ‘national education recovery commissioner’ there have been no details of a further programme announced, while the expert group on lost learning has now been ‘refocused’. In the absence of clear forward planning from the Department for Education, Schools North East is working to develop a plan for recovery for North East schools, which looks beyond covid, placing trust in the teaching profession and working in dialogue with those at the chalkface, as well as creating a joined up approach between education and other services such as health and social care, to better support schools with the challenges they are and will be facing.

For many school leaders, the difficulty with recovery is the unknown, therefore an integral aspect is trusting school leaders to be able to assess the gaps, and allowing time to reestablish relationships. With many children at home and disengaged another key aspect is to reconnect and engage children to foster a love of learning, particularly with elements they have missed out on at home – physical and practical activities.

With the DfE insisting on exams taking place throughout the beginning of this year, as well as moves to reinstate Ofsted Inspections swiftly, it is clear that policymakers are keen on a quick return to ‘normal’. However, with most school leaders suggesting that any recovery or catch up will take at least a year, it is crucial that this does not happen. Moreover, with two years of disruption to the high stakes exams and assessment system, in which severe problems with the system have been exposed, and schools have coped without the benchmarking of SATs, this is now an opportunity to rethink how we monitor and assess our students, and in turn how we hold our schools accountable.

Recent years have seen concepts such as The Forgotten Third, highlighting students who are literally ‘failed’ by our assessment system, as well as the ever growing disadvantage gap which sees as much as an 18 month gap between disadvantaged students and their more affluent peers. With the current ‘pause’ to SATs, GCSE and A-Levels as we knew them, now is an opportunity to rethink both how we educate our students and how we assess them.

We will be consulting North East school leaders and running thought leader roundtables going forward to enable North East school voices to be heard in this important national debate. Keep any eye out for more information in coming weeks.

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