This blog was originally published by Arbor.

It’s been a tough 12 months for schools across the country, with staff having to learn and adapt week-by-week to the changing situation to best support their students.

With concerns around the impact of the past year on creating a “covid generation” who have supposedly fallen behind, schools are feeling the pressure to support students to “get back on track”.

But is this the right way of framing the next phase of the pandemic?

The impact of covid-19 on attainment 

For some students, the challenges thrown up by the pandemic and the cycles of lockdown have meant their situation has changed, with many becoming more vulnerable and detached from their learning. For others, the challenging time has exacerbated their existing vulnerabilities.

However, as the 15 schools within the Aspirations Academies Trust have found, the remote learning programme they ran during lockdown was highly effective. Recent assessments have found that the majority of students are where they should be with their learning. What is more of a concern, however, is the impact on their mental health that has suffered from the lengthy time away from school and their friends.

Should we be referring to “lost learning” at all?

We’ve seen a lot of headlines in the media dominated by the terms “catch up”, “lost learning” and “Covid generation”, but many schools are starting to step away from this language, finding it unhelpful in creating the right atmosphere for students to thrive in.

Schools in Aspirations Academies Trust have found that these negative words actually have the effect of reducing students’ self-esteem and giving them the message that they’re the problem and need to change.

Approaches to post-covid recovery

Aspirations Academies Trust are championing new approaches to “catch up”,  by reframing the negative language associated with it and focusing instead on boosting student wellbeing through more creative subjects, extra-curricular clubs, and a Quality First Teaching approach.

Tim Wormald, Assistant Principal & Wellness Lead at Rivers Academy

Banning “catch-up” language

Since being back at school, Rivers Academy in West London has banned use of any negative language to refer to the “covid generation”, which they’ve found has boosted student happiness. 

Words and phrases such as “catch up”, “what you have missed’’, ‘’you’re behind’’, ‘’we don’t have time to finish the syllabus’’ and “Covid generation’’ were replaced with “Let’s build, strengthen or enhance what we already know”, “map where you are”, “master the skills’’ and “everyone is in the same position”.

The decision was inspired by academic and author Judith E. Glaser who said “words create worlds”.

Rivers Academy has also seen the benefit of positive language. According to Tim Wormald, the school’s Wellness Lead & Assistant Principal: “We have support zones set up for our pupils where they can come and talk to staff about any concerns they have and they have been quiet. You can see and feel the impact that positive language has had at the academy, it feels settled and the students are happy.’’

Championing the progress made in lockdown

Plugging the gaps in knowledge has started by acknowledging the effectiveness of the remote learning that was put in place. As Tim Wormald explains: “The kids did make progress during lockdown. The key has been identifying gaps in their knowledge not through testing but discussions. It is their evaluation skills that have suffered because you can’t question and discuss online in the same way that you can in class with face-to-face contact with your peers. Tackling the issue has come not through extra lessons but focussing on Quality First Teaching.’’

Alex Pearson, Executive Principal at Harriers Academy

Executive Principal at Harriers Academy, Alex Pearson, explains that the vast majority of students at Harriers also engaged well with remote learning during lockdown and are now either where they should be or only just behind. In a survey of their parents, 98.5% rated the remote learning and support provided as good or excellent. 

Focusing on wellbeing

Harriers Academy in Banbury has also banned the phrase “catch up”, and instead have put the focus on boosting the wellbeing of students and incorporating “the three M’s”: Measuring, Mapping and Mastering, combined with a focus on Quality First Teaching. 

Alex Pearson explains, “Once our students returned, we introduced daily “calm time” with yoga sessions, mindful colouring or simply time to talk. Each class also has a calm zone where children can go if they feel it’s necessary.”

Measuring, mapping and mastering
Alex Pearson explains how they’ve implemented “the three M’s” at Harriers Academy:

Measuring the attainment levels of our students through teacher assessments and parental feedback
Mapping where they need to be if they are behind and making sure they are given additional support.
Mastering the challenges that lie ahead for the students through using a Quality First Teaching approach
‘’We have continued with the curriculum and have ensured the children have exciting topics to keep them motivated and engaged. We have focused on lots of time to play with one another and build precious social interactions with peers.’’ – Alex Pearson, Executive Principal, Harriers Academy.

Juan Delgado, Principal at Park Academy

Boosting creative subjects

At Park Academy in West London, the focus since returning to school has been on interactive lessons that engage students, and increasing the number of timetabled hours for creative subjects including music, drama and art. 

Principal Juan Delgado said, “Rather than having extra lessons or asking our students to stay late, the focus has been on increasing their love for learning through lessons that are engaging and interactive. We’ve also focused on increasing their passion for reading to help with closing any attainment gaps and also incorporating little “Do Now” activities in their lessons, so it’s low stakes testing. The overall aim is to make sure our students settle back into school life positively without feeling overwhelmed.’’

Increasing the number of hours devoted to PE, Art, Drama and Music for KS3 per week, has had the effect of boosting the mental health and wellbeing of students at Park Academy. According to Mr Delgado, the benefit is that “although the lessons are practical, the students are using their creativity and imagination”.

The school has also introduced an extra-curricular programme of activities which includes a wide variety of sports, such as football and netball, music, art, technology and STEM. These clubs have proven really popular with the students with numbers increasing throughout the term.