Taking a longer term look at Covid recovery

Written by: Fiona Aubrey-Smith | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Fiona Aubrey-Smith looks at how we can take advantage of the disruption of Covid-19 to build back better with children’s learning and parental engagement

The potential impact of lockdown on children in our schools and what this might look like over the coming weeks, months and years has been the subject of much discussion. But as the saying goes when life gives you lemons, make lemonade…

That was very much the vision of Karine George, an outstanding headteacher and award-winning teacher and ed-tech guru, who has set up Leadership Lemonade, to help school leaders take control and seize the opportunity to run their own school on their terms despite the pandemic impact around the world.

The pandemic has certainly brought us plenty of lemons. The question is, are you willing to turn them into lemonade?

At this early stage in the new school year – and after a “full return” post lockdown – conversations are rightly focused on short-term issues. Getting to know our new classes, identifying gaps in children’s experiences and needs, planning for teaching and intervention to address them, and most importantly helping our children to feel safe back in school.

But school leaders, working strategically, must also maintain a focus on what this all looks like in the longer term. The impact for each year group, each child, each cohort will be different depending on which year group they were in during the lockdown period and what kinds of learning experiences they had during the almost six months that most pupils have spent away from the physical classroom.

Furthermore, the quality of teaching that they experienced prior to the pandemic, and what now follows creates a cumulative influence that will affect each and every child in our school in different ways.

Reviewing your pupils' longer term learning

As school leaders, we know that the Covid-19 disruption affecting our children’s learning is not just like a pair of playground-torn school trousers that can be patched up and then worn again without a second thought. Our children’s learning relies on strong and firm foundations to hold up the interwoven and interdependent experiences that build upon it – and those foundations are pretty wobbly for many children right now.

As one primary school headteacher told me: “My current year 3s had an underperforming teacher in year 1, then lost half of the year through lockdown in year 2, so left key stage 1 with huge gaps in their learning – we’re having to think very deeply about how we address that and still keep pace with what they are entitled to learn in key stage 2.”

Some headteachers have adopted the idea of “Cohort Champions” to address this – a member of middle or senior leadership who is responsible for monitoring a specific year group for the duration of that cohort’s experience at the school.

Importantly, the Cohort Champion is not otherwise involved in the teaching or pastoral support of that year group of children – distancing themselves from bias that affects monitoring (e.g. they are not involved in head of year disciplinary issues, quality of teaching or key stage leadership planning, assessment or moderation).

As one headteacher explained: “If a teacher or leader is responsible for a year group, then they can’t look objectively at all the factors affecting it either positively or negatively – they themselves might be one of those factors.”

Begin by asking some key questions:

  • How are you objectively monitoring each of your cohorts (beyond assessment and progress data)?
  • What information are you recording and reviewing about the cumulative impact of the quality of teaching they have experienced – through individual teachers and sequences of staff members, through remote learning and lockdown?

Now take each cohort and track back to when they entered your school:

  • List who has taught them.
  • What notable events have happened each year?
  • Were they affected by particular events (building works, new strategies being introduced or discontinued)?
  • Have any children joining/leaving affected the cohort’s dynamics?
  • How has staff turnover affected the cohort?
  • Were there significant illnesses or absences, pastoral events or matters which affected large numbers of the cohort?
  • How did curriculum and assessment changes affect their experiences, learning coverage, expectations and pressures?
  • What impact might all these influences have?

Longer term parental engagement

Another key consideration must be changing relationships with parents and families. For example, many parents now have greater insights into what and how their children are learning – increasing engagement in some and expectations in others. Through remote learning, some parents have become more involved in their children’s learning and want to work more closely with the school now than they did before. Ask yourself:

  • How have the expectations of your parents changed as a result of remote learning?
  • What insights have they now got and how can you use those to work more effectively in partnership?
  • What tools can be used (e.g. remote learning technologies) to work more effectively with parents going forwards?

This term, we might offer short “welcome” video meets with all parents (or even just specific families), asking them about their child and listening to their aspirations.

Furthermore, share a one-minute video with parents introducing the curriculum being covered this term. Offer pre-recorded or live video calls demonstrating the strategies being used in class so that parents can be more informed when they help with homework.

  • Fiona Aubrey-Smith is a former school leader and now Doctoral researcher and consultant. She sits on several educational charity boards and facilitates a number of national networks. Read her previous articles for Headteacher Update at http://bit.ly/2IPHfe4

Further information & resources

Leadership Lemonade: https://leadership-lemonade.co.uk/

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