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I'm just catching up

Is catching up catching on? #1

In June last year, the Welsh Government published some wise guidance about returning to school after the first lockdown. The emphasis was on the need to focus on students’ health and well-being and getting them ready for learning, and cautions against any attempt at ‘catch up’:

“Focus should be on learners becoming ‘learning fit’ rather than level loss or ‘catching up’ on activity: Learning should have a clear focus on preparing learners to learning strength gain and support their progression and next steps, rather than focusing on level attainment or perceptions they need to ‘catch-up’.” [p9]

Yet in England, the Government has recently announced the appointment of Sir Kevan Collins to ‘develop a long-term plan for helping pupils to make up for lost learning’ and to help children ‘make up their learning over the course of this parliament’. Catch-up funding of £1bn has been announced, including subsidies for tutoring services.

Already Sir Kevan has been dubbed the ‘education catch-up tsar’, and given his background at the Education Endowment Foundation, he will be well aware of how high-impact, low-cost strategies such as metacognitive approaches and self-regulation are proven to underpin effective learning.

Yes, there is some talk of well-being and the difficulties of re-engaging learners, but there is little doubt that the tide is turning towards attempts to recover lost ground, particularly in the core subjects, maybe even at the expense of time spent studying subjects that are considered ‘less important’. Mostly this is well-intentioned and designed to narrow the gap between those who were inclined to engage with their studies during lockdown, and those who were less so inclined.

The Government is reportedly considering 5 possible ways children could make up for lost time:

1) Summer schools – although research shows that the target group – the most disadvantaged – is the group least likely to participate, and that staffing it with teachers may prove problematic.

2) Weekly tutoring sessions – but the evidence is that the benefits of tutoring done online, not by professionals, is currently unclear and thin.

3) Repeating the school year – is almost certainly impractical and, moreover, the evidence is that pupils who repeat a year make less progress than those who do not.

4) Extending school days – as proposed by the chair of the Education Select Committee, to be staffed by ‘civil society instead of teachers’. Outsourcing learning catch-up to ‘civil society’? – we do indeed live in interesting times!

5) Increased wellbeing support – is at least in the right ball-park, but appears to focus almost exclusively on emotional wellbeing. Nothing wrong with attending to children’s mental health, but what about their cognitive and metacognitive health and their inclination to re-engage with schooling in a purposeful manner? To help learners to be ‘learning fit’, in the words of the Welsh Government?

What do we think will win the day – Sir Kevan’s understanding of what works in schools, or a combination of poorly thought through, expensive and potentially ineffective strategies that may, at first sight, have greater political appeal?

So – schools could wait for ‘civil society’ to intervene on their behalf [!], or begin to think about how they can best re-engage learners. In getting students ‘learning fit’, schools might find it useful to give some thought to why some learners have found engagement during lockdown really difficult, or have engaged but with reluctance.

Find out more about rebuilding your students emotional capacity for learning…

We’ll take a closer look at some of these concerns shortly. 


By Steve Watson – Principal Consultant

Steve Watson works as Principal Consultant for TLO. He is former Deputy Headteacher of Alderbrook School (Secondary) and co-owner of The Learning Nursery pre-school. Steve’s commitment to radically challenging teaching and learning in a comprehensive school context has made him focus schools on the development of their own language for learning based on Building Learning Power. His strategic yet hands-on approach wins respect and ensures that the vision is realised in practice.

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