Covid safety measures will hit teaching standards, research warns

A majority of teachers have concerns about being able to teach to their usual standard in the classroom while Covid-19 measures are in place.

Furthermore, teachers estimate that at least four in 10 pupils will need “intensive catch-up support” this academic year, with only two-thirds of the usual curriculum having been covered during the 2019/20 academic year.

The research involved around 3,000 school leaders and teachers from across more than 2,200 primary and secondary schools and was carried out in July by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER).

Its 72-page report highlights the challenges that teachers and pupils will face as schools open fully. It warns that 74 per cent of the teachers in the study did not feel able to teach to their usual standard under the safety regulations that were in force.

The report states: “In open response questions, almost half said that distancing requirements had negatively impacted their teaching practices. This resulted in them no longer being able to utilise core elements of their teaching practices, such as group work and practical work, nor did they feel able to move around the classroom to teach, support and interact with their pupils effectively.”

Around 40 per cent of the teachers also said they no longer had access to their usual resources, such as equipment and learning materials.

More than half of school leaders in the survey also reported that they were using teaching assistants to lead classes, as a way of managing smaller classes – and 46 per cent of teachers said that they were mainly teaching pupils they did not usually teach.

The NFER warns that these challenges are expected to remain as schools re-open as a result of the Covid-19 social distancing requirements.

Elsewhere, the teachers in the research judged that 44 per cent of pupils will need intensive catch-up support in the coming academic year – with those from the most deprived schools and schools with highest proportions of pupils from BAME backgrounds in greatest need.

The report adds: “Teachers’ estimates are 25 percentage points higher in the most deprived schools, compared to the least deprived schools. They are also significantly higher (by 18 percentage points) in schools serving the highest proportion of pupils from BAME backgrounds, and this relationship persists after controlling for the effects of deprivation.”

The research estimates that teachers have covered only 66 per cent of the usual curriculum during the 2019/20 school year. On average, the teachers estimate that pupils are three months behind in their learning after the lockdown; 98 per cent of the respondents said their pupils are behind “where they would normally expect them to be”.

Again, teachers in the most deprived schools are three times more likely to report that their pupils are four months or more behind in their learning compared to teachers in the least deprived schools.

The study adds: “Senior leaders’ top priorities for September are to provide support for pupils’ emotional and mental health and wellbeing (81 per cent); to re-engage pupils with learning (64 per cent); and to settle them into school (63 per cent).

“It is understandable that senior leaders feel the need to focus on these ‘basics’ following, in many cases, almost six months out of school. The catch-up effort in schools is therefore likely to start later in the autumn term and will be a ‘long game’ rather than a ‘quick fix’.”

The study also warns that schools will need to have enhanced plans in place for interactive remote learning and IT equipment in case of local lockdowns.

It found that, by July, teachers were “no more likely to be offering interactive teaching methods than earlier in lockdown”.

Many schools were supplying IT equipment to staff, but 35 per cent of teachers were providing their own computers and 41 per cent their own camera/video equipment. Furthermore, the school leaders in the research said that 28 per cent of pupils have limited access to IT at home.

The report contains a number of recommendations, including calls for government action to ensure laptops are provided to all disadvantaged children in the event of local lockdowns. It also says that Ofsted must “modify expectations for schools in upcoming inspections” in light of the impact of Covid-19 restrictions.

Dr Angela Donkin, chief social scientist at NFER, said: “While it is crucial that children catch-up, we should not assume that teachers will immediately be able to deliver the same quality of teaching, at the same speed, as before the pandemic.

“There remains a range of barriers for teachers and schools, which means catch-up should be seen as part of the on-going process of learning recovery, for most pupils, rather than as a quick-turnaround solution.”

Josh Hillman, director of education at the Nuffield Foundation, which co-funded the research, added: “Rather than being a quick-fix, school catch-up schemes will need to be sustained if they are to be effective, and we would welcome additional government guidance and funding for schools as they develop new ways of working.

“This long-term approach is particularly important given the on-going impact of Covid-19 on students' family circumstances, such as increased levels of job insecurity, poverty and relationship breakdowns, all of which could affect their learning and development and further widen the disadvantage gap.”