Catch-up – a buzz phrase we are all familiar with.
When you fall behind you need to catch-up, when you miss something you need to catch-up.
But is this really the phrase we want to use when describing the steps that need to be taken to support our learners? I don’t think so. Recovery. It encapsulates all that we want to achieve without the negative connotations that someone or something is to blame for the situation facing schools.
We need to take a step back from the noise around catch-up and the two elements that are driving forward this, to support well-being and stop any more lost learning.
Catching up from Covid-19
We need to be honest and say that recovery is going to take time, we are all going to be in this for the long-haul and that is okay. There is a logic to the notions of extra schooling on Saturdays, extending the school day and summer term.
But it only equates to helping make up the hours and will do nothing to support the crucial issue of a child’s capacity to learn.
A child’s capacity for learning has not changed just because of the pandemic, making them ‘learn’ for longer will not help. We want to steer clear of compounding the wellbeing issues undoubtedly facing children by keeping them in school for longer. They need to experience their childhood norms again.
Our children have missed out on interaction with other children, they need to be allowed to play, see friends and enjoy all those experiences that are so important to their social development.
What we need to focus on is allowing educators the time to assess the impact on pupils and delivering quality learning. It is our educators, our skilled workforce who have worked tirelessly to support our children throughout the pandemic, that hold the key to the recovery success.
They need to be allowed space and time to access and understand the impact on individual children and then have access to whole system support, educational psychologists, CAHMS, play schemes, sports clubs – whatever it takes, for however long it takes.
Invest in teachers
Schools will need the flexibility to focus on the needs of the children in their care. This will differ in every setting. For some schools this may mean a reduced curriculum, focusing expressly on the basics and wellbeing. We cannot be afraid to do that if it’s in the best interest of the individual.
The best thing any government could do to help is to invest and value the profession. For this to happen, we need to look at teacher retention and quality professional development.
Now is not the time to lose teachers, we need to do all we can to retain them. Data showed that there has been a retention issue even before the pandemic and we want to ensure that the best people stay with us to support recovery.
Quality professional development is another. We know there is some great work being done to support professional development, but we need to build on that work.
Listen to teachers and education experts
Finally, everyone needs to understand what it means to be a teacher. The misguided view that they have endless holidays and finish work early has meant that what was a throw-away line about the profession has become the perceived reality for the public.
If you have been a teacher or a lecturer, you know that preparation is everything. What you do away from the chalkface is crucial to a successful lesson. It is as important as what you do in front of your learners.
This is a really important point for policymakers going forward and anyone who thinks more hours with children will speed up recovery. It won’t.
We need to listen to the experts, file the notion of catch-up in the bin and let the profession tell you what they need to support our children.
Laura Doel is director of NAHT Cymru.