We’re ready to tackle lockdown learning loss

Written by: Louise Smith | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Tackling the gaps in learning post-lockdown does not mean blunt approaches like extra homework – it is about good assessment and working smarter. Louise Smith explains the approaches being planned at Warrington Primary Academy Trust

Summer learning loss has been a big issue for disadvantaged and vulnerable children for many years. It is an issue that we are used to dealing with in the six schools that make up Warrington Primary Academy Trust (WPAT).

This year we have the challenge of lockdown learning loss, with disadvantaged children once again being most at risk after the long absence from our classrooms enforced by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Some of the gaps in core learning areas will be significant for some children but not insurmountable. Through a combination of careful assessment, analysis, bespoke learning packages and excellent teaching we are readying ourselves for the challenge.

Our approach, which has already begun with the first children to return in mid-June, will be to offer a streamlined curriculum to target these gaps and not offer the broad, rich curriculum that we are used to providing.

For children who have lost a lot of learning time there is no point now going into wider curriculum if they cannot properly access everything. So initially, our focus will be on reading, writing and maths.

As a National Leader of Education, I have a lot of experience helping to turn around struggling schools, focusing on support for teaching and learning. The challenges facing struggling schools are slightly different to the ones we currently face but there are principles that we can adapt and use.

Often when you have issues with teaching and learning in struggling schools it is ineffective teaching and leadership that is at the root and this will be manifested in a lack of embedded learning and superficial delivery.

We do not have an issue with leadership or with upskilling teachers as we perhaps would with a struggling school. But there will be similar gaps in children’s knowledge that will have to be addressed.

Our first step is for our teachers to establish where the children’s learning gaps are. Their focus is on getting learners secure in these core subjects. And it does not mean simply giving them extra homework – it is about working smarter.

We carry out what you might call a 360-degree assessment, focusing on everything we know about where that child is at in writing, reading and maths. Then it is a case of determining how far we are from their learning objective, assessing their exact needs and how many steps we have to take to get them to that objective.

Each child will be assessed based on their record of online learning during the lockdown period and their time back at school. This will include a question level analysis to identify learning gaps and then we will create a learning plan targeted on those gaps which will be reviewed every six weeks.

We are asking teachers to use the depths of their subject knowledge to find out how to traverse that gap. In English, our subject head and a consultant are creating a bespoke programme that will focus on reading and comprehension for the older children and phonics for year 1s.

It is a similar approach with maths. For the younger children, for example, there will be a focus on arithmetic and making sure that they are solid on the four operations as well as sphere, shape and measure.

There are good resources out there that our schools will use to create these learning programmes. Excellent programme materials have been created by White Rose Maths and the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Maths (NCETM), for example.

We will also bring in some tutors to support children one-to-one, including a year 5 teacher returning from maternity leave. We now know that additional government money will be available to help our catch-up plans, but the details remain sketchy.

The one-year, £350 million National Tutoring Programme (NTP) will be set up to offer catch-up support to primary and secondary school pupils “who have missed out on learning during school closures”. In addition, schools are to receive £650 million in 2020/21 to support catch up activities. However, there is uncertainty over how this money will be allocated.

So until we know more, any additional tutoring that we provide will be funded by the trust budget.

We are not planning to open our schools over the summer break, but we will support children and parents in online learning with a comprehensive home learning packages, including Reading Eggs for key stage 1 children and Reading Plus for key stage 2. The older children will access their learning materials through the Microsoft Teams platform, which they are now very familiar with, while year 1s will use the ClassDojo platform.

Our experiences during the lockdown and in the weeks since our schools began to open up to more children have reinforced something that we have always believed – that teaching excellence really does matter.

We have always believed that children can achieve great leaps in learning if we teach relevant content in the right sequence with high performing teachers.

If you do not have really good teachers in every school, especially in schools which serve disadvantaged areas, then the gaps in children’s learning created by lockdowns or summer holidays will not be addressed and will get more pronounced as time goes on. We are fortunate to have excellent teachers who, with their skill and determination, will make sure that we overcome this challenge.

  • Louise Smith is CEO of Warrington Primary Academy Trust, a multi-academy trust of six primary schools and a Teaching School, based in Warrington. The trust was established in 2016. Visit www.wpat.warrington.sch.uk

Further information & resources

  • NTP: The National Tutoring Programme is being hosted by the Education Endowment Foundation. For details, see https://bit.ly/3291sbb

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