Over the past week, I have been reflecting on how school closures due to COVID-19 have impacted pupils and given rise to concerns about slower rates of learning and actual learning loss; with undoubtedly, a greater negative impact on disadvantaged children. I have included a link from Professor Hattie in a recent paper where his research considers the ‘Visible Learning Effect Sizes When Schools Are Closed: What Matters and What Does Not’. Also the recent Bristol Summary from the Education Endowment Fund, ‘The Impact of School Closures on the Attainment Gap: Rapid Evidence Assessment’. There has been considerable speculation over the last few weeks about what actually constitutes effective catch up, both of these pieces raise a number of questions, whilst challenging our thinking and approach; as we consider what catch up might look like for pupils following recent announcements about tutoring, devices and the rapid development of schools’ virtual learning environments.

Hattie considers the research around whether it matters that students are not in the physical place called school, which at the outset feels quite contentious, the paper then goes onto consider the effect of the home. Hattie states that, ‘The most likely implication of school closures relates to equity. Students who come from well-resourced families will fare much better than those from lower resourced families: The effect of home resources is powerful (d = .51). I have rarely met a parent who does not want to help the child, but some do not have the skills. Remember, we made schooling compulsory because teachers are better at teaching than parents’. Hattie reflects on natural disasters that have impacted family lives, the devastation of the Australian bushfires, the effects of the earthquakes in New Zealand in 2011 and the floods in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, what is the learning from these devastating events and how did learning recovery take place?

The EEF paper recognises there are a number of methodological challenges facing researchers attempting to measure the impact of school closures on the attainment gap. The summary states, ‘Therefore, to understand fully the implications of learning loss, we need to know about learning regain. If it is slow and effortful then the loss is painful. However, if the regain is quick and easy then we probably should not even call it ‘loss’. I have spoken to a number of heads recently about the challenge of getting young people back in school, especially as there is a perceived choice, notwithstanding the genuine anxiety that does exist in many of our communities and the safety requirements. Heads support the EEF view, that if we can get pupils back in school, the regain in learning will be swift, that is what schools do best. Interestingly, the EEF asserts that improving the quality of teaching is the best way of improving pupil outcomes, particularly for disadvantaged students. The EEF recommends that when spending the pupil premium, schools take a tiered approach, starting with efforts to improve teaching quality.

I will summarise by reminding us all that we are learners and the pandemic is an opportunity to learn about learning from a distance; as Hattie concludes, ‘So share stories of success of teachers and students learning from this crisis, pay particular attention to below average or special needs students, discover how to develop collective efficacy among teachers and school leaders, and use this experience to learn how to best work with all students’.

Jon Abbey

Managing Director of Camden Learning

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