How not to do Covid catch-up in schools

Everyone is talking about ‘catching up’ on the learning lost through lockdown, but the solution is not as simple as sticking on a few hours of extra school time

Zofia Niemtus

Covid-catch up: What does the research say about what will work best to help pupils catch up on lost learning?

Catch-up. It's the term that’s casting a huge shadow over the education world at the moment, as the profession grapples with exactly what it means and what the process should look like. 

The government’s education recovery package is pushing in certain directions, providing funding for summer schools, an early language support programme and an expansion of the National Tutoring Programme. 

But that still leaves lots for leaders to decide when it comes to provision for students when they arrive back in schools next week.

What doesn't work

So, what should catch-up provision look like? And what should be avoided? These are huge questions, the likes of which haven’t been addressed on this scale before. And there are no clear-cut answers.  

Becky Francis, chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, says the evidence is clear on what doesn’t work, however. 

The idea of repeating a year, for example, has been mooted in some quarters, but the research from several evidence summaries, as cited in the Teaching and Learning Toolkit, says it is “poor practice” and “not effective in terms of impact”.

“Anything that seems to be a penalty for students is not to be welcomed,” she says. “Particularly given the really logistically difficult and long, knock-on effects on the system that repeating years would have.”

In fact, anything that could lead to students feeling penalised for something that is not their fault clearly needs to be avoided. But in order to sidestep such pitfalls, we need to remember what it feels like to be a pupil in the system. 

In their shoes

And so in order to create really effective approaches to learning in the wake of the closures, we need to pause and consider how plans will be seen through students’ eyes.

For instance, if the language being used is focused on deficit, what message does that convey? If students are being asked to attend extra sessions, how far is catching up on their socialisation being sacrificed? How intense is the experience of their day going to be in general?

The key thing to remember, Francis continues, is that this process is not going to be a sprint. If we rush it, we will get it wrong. 

Instead, we need to look at the bigger picture, bringing in ways to address the knock-on effects of the pandemic in the years, even decades, to come, rather than trying to fix it all at once.

“As well as these questions about diagnosis and remedy, we’re going to need to think about broader system-level things like flexible admissions and flexible ways for students to recover learning if it becomes evident later in life that there is a chunk that has been missed and is at risk of hindering them,” Francis reflects. 

“We need ways that people will be able to flexibly access those opportunities.

“We’re going to need a really concerted, sustained strategic approach to the remediation of learning loss. We need a short-term approach, a medium-term approach and a long-term approach to this issue of compensation and mitigating the impact of the pandemic on young people’s learning and life chances.”

The full version of this article is available in the 5 March issue of Tes. Subscribers can read the full article here. To subscribe, click here. This week's Tes magazine is available at all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

Tes Covid Support Hub

Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

Zofia Niemtus

Zofia Niemtus

Zofia Niemtus is deputy commissioning editor for Tes (Maternity cover)

Find me on Twitter @Zofcha

Latest stories