When the Covid-19 crisis caused all schools across the country to close to most pupils in 2020, it was clear that this would have an impact on pupils’ wellbeing and learning.
How big of an impact was unknown at the time, driving speculation about “lost learning” and the need for a “catch-up curriculum”.
This continued throughout the autumn term when pupils returned – and the infection rates caused further disruption to learning. Providing remote education further complicated the way in which children’s learning was delivered.
For the Lion Academy Trust, there have been many positives that have come from this challenging time and it has made us think carefully about what matters more – is it what we teach or is it how we teach that makes the biggest difference?
How can we make sure that the curriculum has an impact on improving outcomes when children return?
We started with the end in mind and focused on the learning experience that the children would receive when they returned.
Our work as a trust in reviewing and enhancing our wider curriculum offer for the last two years proved essential. Running ten schools nationally showed that irrespective of Covid-19 or the large-scale disruptions, all children benefit from an exciting curriculum that is curated and sequenced in a logical and well thought out manner.
Our curriculum is designed so that all children are fully immersed in the learning experience and are able to talk about and lead on all aspects of their learning.
As a leading educational user of the Google suite of platforms, learning in-class and remotely was maintained to the same immersive, inclusive standards – implemented swiftly for September 2020.
Alongside distributing over 1,000 devices to support learning at home, rich curriculum content was supplemented by regular and meaningful opportunities for assessing how well pupils were progressing with their learning via a range of questions to make children think deeply about what they have learned and their next steps.
This curriculum – The Lion Learning Pathways – can be found at lionlearningpathways.net.
What should we teach first?
Assessment is the key to knowing what the gaps in learning, knowledge, skills and understanding are.
Formal testing cannot provide all the answers; a programme of supporting the children back into school and then tailoring the learning to their needs requires planning and a range of opportunities to assess where each child was against all areas of the curriculum.
Pupil conferences, limited testing and focus groups all were deployed to establish a per-pupil snapshot. For those that required additional support such as pupils with SEND that were not yet working on the national curriculum content, further tailored support plans were defined and implemented.
How well would the children engage with learning content and the curriculum when they returned and what might affect this? When children returned to classrooms in September, a key priority was helping them engage with the learning content in a new and adapted way.
Classroom layouts had to be changed; entry and exit processes were amended; mealtimes and movement around the school were stringently controlled to meet infection control requirements.
The period of closure had impacted on children’s ability to persevere with tasks, as well as their levels of independence and resilience to challenges in learning.
In all key stages, it was clear that additional teacher development would be key to enabling content to be delivered effectively and to meet the needs of all our learners.
A coherent and consistent pedagogy in all of our schools is a core element of successful teaching and learning. All lessons are underpinned with regular and meaningful opportunities for children to talk about what they are learning and how to be successful in their learning.
As lessons are delivered in a similar way, children make better progress because how to learn successfully is established in a consistent manner. Temporary amendments to how this was enabled through changes in the set-up of each school therefore needed to be implemented.
What core elements of teaching and learning had been impacted most significantly by the period of closure and the changes to remote learning? Remote learning became a greater challenge to overcome.
Leaders had to shift the focus of CPD for teachers in novel ways, ensuring children’s learning was not diminished because of imposed structural changes.
Supporting staff via effective CPD was aimed at continuing to ensure children’s ability to talk coherently about their learning was not affected by the closure or move to remote teaching. We focused on developing staff ability to be able to:
- Provide regular and meaningful opportunities for children to discuss and collaborate with their learning – what learning came before? How does this relate to current learning? More challenging to deliver remotely – this became a key development point when the children returned.
- Model learning in a systematic way that builds on prior knowledge and skills and uses assessment for learning strategies effectively to shape learning so all children progress.
- Manage the misconception about modelling learning and allowing the children to be clear about what they are learning versus explaining the task was a key support activity.
- Deliver effective focus groups that enable assessment of children’s knowledge and understanding of skills and content – as well as teaching targeted learning to close the curriculum gaps.
Through this work, as well as discussions with leaders and a range of surveys, an emerging trend started to appear within different groups of staff.
Are there any key groups of staff that have been more affected by this period? Two key staffing groups had been most affected – those that were new to teaching – currently NQT’s and RQT’s, and those that had recently secured a new leadership post.
The first year in post for new teaching staff had been significantly disrupted – breaking the cycle of the peaks and troughs of the academic calendar.
How to deliver teaching and how to lead teaching was also different due to the many changes and challenges emerging.
This resulted in some staff thinking that the strategies for delivering remote education would be the same as successfully delivering this in the classroom.
Equally, those that were responsible for leading teaching needed support in transitioning practice back into the class settings. Some of the newest leaders felt that as we had to adapt the “way” in which learning was delivered (the technology that was used) that there was a need to adapt “how” it was delivered.
To combat this, we transformed the teacher and leader development priorities to focus sharply on developing the knowledge, skills and understanding to deliver effective teaching through remote education to maintain consistency in “how” learning was delivered to ensure that when the children returned, the learning experience was seamless.
As such, the period of closure and the constant disruption to education has reminded us of the importance of the following foundations for enabling children to make great progress:
- Staff development to ensure that they understand what effective pedagogy is as well as accessing rich curriculum content are equally important. A curriculum that is designed to help children make progress that is taught poorly will not have the right impact. Equally, highly effective teaching practice that is delivering the wrong content is also ineffective. It is by developing both curriculum and pedagogical expertise in a systematic manner that leads to the biggest impact on pupils’ progress and raising attainment.
- The biggest key to unlocking success and enabling progress is making the learning and the learning process clear and consistent for the children.
- Assess the children very well, in a range of ways and with planned regularity, so that there is a clear understanding of the gaps in learning that the children have.
- Teachers and leaders are great at adapting and providing solutions, but also benefit from continuity – in how they are teaching and what they are expected to teach.
The pandemic and disruption has reminded us of many things. What it hasn’t done is taught us anything new about how to support those who have fallen behind, or those who need a bespoke plan because of their individual needs.
Simply, we need to know what the gaps are, to have an exciting curriculum for them to access that meets their learning needs, and to teach it very well, every day. This will make the biggest difference, and it always has.
How to move forward
- Work to ensure that the structures in every lesson are the same – to avoid losing time and quality through unnecessary variations in teaching practice.
- Keep children focussed and excited about their time in class through drawing on the broadest range of experiences, technologies and opportunities for learning – the progress required comes from this married with superb teaching – not through repetition and reducing the sense of wonder and passion for being back at school.
- Reach out to organisations with answers – the Lion Academy Trust (like many other MATs) have developed proven solutions – not just in pedagogical or curriculum terms – but more broadly in finance, estates, IT, staffing development and CPD – you’re not alone and you don’t have to solve every problem as a single school entity.
Hayden Tyers is Director of Schools at Lion Academy Trust. For more information contact email@example.com.