2021 Summer Term

The know zone

  • Picking up the pieces
    ASCL Primary Specialist Tiffnie Harris highlights the latest research on the impact of the pandemic on primary education. More
  • Apprenticeships
    ASCL Senior Advisor Anne Murdoch provides details of the government's new incentives for employers to take on apprentices. More
  • Step up
    A new Level 2 vocational programme for 16 year-olds is now underway. ASCL Post-16 Specialist Kevin Gilmartin takes a look at the transition programme. More
  • Seeing clearly
    ASCL Pensions Specialist Jacques Szemalikowski explains the outcome of the McCloud judgment on local government pensions and teachers' pensions. More
  • SOS
    If you were Secretary of State for Education, what would you do in your first day in office? Here, ASCL members have their say... More
  • Head on up
    Deputy Head Charlotte Jordan says being on ASCL Council has been both enriching and a lifeline. Here she shares her passion for Council and leadership, and her pride at recently being appointed to the post of headmistress. More
  • Let's do lunch
    Her pupils' exemplary behaviour on their return to school in March initially delighted Ellie Challis... before a surprising lack of table manners gave her food for thought. More
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ASCL Primary Specialist Tiffnie Harris highlights the latest research on the impact of the pandemic on primary education.

Picking up the pieces

Over the last few months, there has been a lot of research to measure the impact of the pandemic on education. It is inevitable that some damage has been done, but how should primary school leaders use this growing body of evidence in future planning?

On 28 April this year, ASCL partner GL Assessment published a new report entitled Words of Encouragement: Reading resilience during the pandemic (reports.gl-assessment.co.uk/wordsmatter). The report is a snapshot of the data gleaned from schools so far on students’ reading ability. It also includes the experiences of teachers in a variety of schools and trusts in England – how they managed during lockdown, what literacy strategies they think worked best and how they will be supporting their students over the months ahead.

The report highlights many interesting findings, including that “even though some children struggled, particularly those with lower reading ability, they report that overall, and despite their initial fears, children’s reading skills remained stable – and some children even soared”. This is good news. It is also a good nod of thanks to the dedication and commitment of primary school leaders, teachers, teaching assistants, parents and carers during the months of home learning, alongside decisions made by headteachers to prioritise these key areas of the primary curriculum.

The report goes on to say “Many [teachers interviewed] said they had expected the worst after so many school days were lost to the pandemic, but that they have been pleasantly surprised at how resilient their students’ reading abilities were.”

No place for complacency

The report, however, does come with caveats, and not all children have been able to weather the storm in the same way. The report goes on to say that “this relatively positive overall picture should not lead us to conclude that the pandemic has had no impact on children’s reading. Some students have undoubtedly suffered, and their reading ability has been impaired. Nor is it always obvious who has been worst affected or how.”

The need for a broad and balanced curriculum

Many ASCL members tell us that teaching of the arts, in some schools, has had to take less of a priority during school closures as school leaders have supported parents in the challenge of home learning by prioritising literacy and numeracy.

The long-term impact on pupils of having reduced exposure to the arts, however, could be momentous, particularly for pupils from less affluent homes. Evidence of this is suggested in the Durham Commission’s report, Durham Commission on Creativity and Education – second report 2021 (tinyurl.com/5e4dchn5), which focused specifically on the impact of Covid-19 on education. Among the new findings published earlier this year is the following statement:

“For the last year, young people have been denied creative and cultural experiences in schools. They told us how much they missed this and how personal creativity sustained many of them. School leaders reminded us that many of their pupils will have suffered bereavement, spent the last year in acute isolation, or been trapped in abusive family situations; they will have forgotten how to participate in school, how to express themselves and how to have fun, let alone how to learn.… School leaders recognise the restorative value of creative and cultural activities… these should be intrinsic to a ‘recovery curriculum’.”

Curriculum planning post-pandemic

As primary school leaders prepare for a full suite of primary assessments returning from September 2021, inevitably curriculum planning will be forced down the similar narrow paths as before the pandemic. School leaders need to feel confident enough to look beyond this when prioritising future learning, using relevant internal data from within their own contexts. Each school’s data tells a unique and different story.

GL Assessment’s report says “all the signs are that although learning has been disrupted and children are understandably pleased to be back in school, they are also resilient. The evidence of the data we have and the testimony of teachers on the ground suggest that students continued to make progress even if much of everyday life slowed down.”

Moving forward

As further research emerges on the effects of the pandemic, more questions can be answered. However, school leaders and their communities know the learning needs of their children better than anyone else. The unwelcome added anxiety of high-stakes accountability measures and performance tables in 2022 will continue to hang over schools until the government finally decides on this.

Moving forward, the government and Ofsted need to do three things. They need to listen to school leaders, they need to trust them and they need to offer them support.

Tiffnie Harris
ASCL Primary Specialist