Nicola Townsend is a highly experienced early years senior leader having worked in a number of schools as a national lead practitioner and deputy principal. She is passionate about early years and ensuring young children enjoy a wide range of excellent learning experiences and developments.

In this post, she offers her response to the question: Is student development suffering due to the pandemic and what can teachers do to decrease the gap?

The importance of ‘closing the gap’

Teachers, now teaching remotely, with some of their pupils in school, juggling homeschooling and work, find themselves in a time of rapid and very unfamiliar change. We must ensure we ‘go all out’ to praise the children who are also going through a period of unfamiliarity. Praise for what they are achieving in these times is crucial.

It has been such a change for children being stuck indoors, out of their normal routine and not seeing their friends.  They do not consistently have the guidance of their teachers, who have been trained to teach, nurture, care and build their love of learning.

This, for most, is the strangest situation we have ever been in. Could we, did we, foresee that this would happen? Possibly not. However, with strategies we already know and work to decrease the gap, it is more important than ever that we get it right to diminish the difference for those pupils who are at risk of falling behind.

What are the suggested proposals?

The attainment gap between the poor and the wealthy has widened dramatically, exacerbated by a multitude of factors. These factors include the quality and quantity of teaching, access to digital technology and broadband internet and the educational level, skills, and spare time of parents at home.

One suggestion being shared is to lengthen the school day using volunteers to support the missed social interactions through sports or a place to do homework focusing on positive activities, engagement, and pastoral support.

This would have a positive impact on the children’s health and wellbeing, but would need to be carefully planned both logistically and financially whilst not adding to the already increased workload of teachers and school staff.

Volunteers, sports coaches and youth workers have been suggested to carry out these extra-curricular activities. Schools should be able to decide for themselves if this is a solution that would work for them and be manageable.

The Education Policy Institute suggestion is to double pupil premium funding and the early years pupil premium embarking on a COVID catch-up fund, allowing schools the autonomy to select strategies to implement the additions of their choice to support the children in their care.

A three-tiered approach suggested by the Education Endowment Fund (EEF) provides guidance to schools with the planning approach which can be tailored to the specific needs of the school.

1. Teaching

  • High-quality teaching for all
  • Effective diagnostic assessment
  • Supporting remote learning
  • Focusing on professional development

2. Targeted academic support

  • High-quality one-to-one and small group tuition
  • Teaching assistants and targeted support
  • Academic tutoring
  • Planning for pupils with SEND

3. Wider strategies

  • Supporting pupils social, emotional and behavioural needs
  • Planning carefully for adopting SEL curriculum
  • Communicating with and supporting parents
  • Supporting parents with pupils of different ages
  • Successful implementation in challenging times

Less is more and by selecting actions that are implemented properly, progress can be made. The tiered approach is a guide, not a prescription with many strategies that will overlap and vary throughout the academic year.

A strategy supported by the Department for Education focuses on the importance of oral language skills crucial for thinking, learning and social interaction. Children’s oral language ability during their early years is one of the strongest predictors of success in literacy, numeracy and later employment as well as wellbeing.

The Nuffield Early Language Intervention programme is currently one of the most well-evidenced early language programmes in the country. Children who have received the NELI programme made on average +3 months progress.

EYFS ‘Understanding the World’

Developing language skills is an important aspect that runs throughout the new early year’s framework. The curriculum and opportunities that this provides need to be planned carefully keeping the holistic approach in ensuring that the children in our care get off to the best possible start.

Focusing on understanding the world, the educational programme states that:

“Understanding the world involves guiding children to make sense of their physical world and their community. The frequency and range of children’s personal experiences increase their knowledge and sense of the world around them – from visiting parks, libraries and museums to meeting important members of society such as police officers, nurses and firefighters. In addition, listening to a broad selection of stories, non-fiction, rhymes and poems will foster their understanding of our culturally, socially, technologically and ecologically diverse world. As well as building important knowledge, this extends their familiarity with words that support understanding across domains. Enriching and widening children’s vocabulary will support later reading comprehension.”

The programme clearly states the need to ensure that children have opportunities to make sense of the world around them. By creating opportunities and experiences with a carefully planned curriculum that meets the needs of all children, it must also be designed to diminish the difference by using targeted support through high-quality teaching and ensuring that wider strategies are also included.

Have you thought about joining The National College?

To provide a deeper understanding of teaching young children’s development in line with new DfE EYFS reforms, Nicola has developed a webinar ideal for school leaders, teachers, and practitioners. It explores how you can support children’s development and understanding of the world in the current climate, while meeting your DfE requirements.

Find out more here.

As a member of The National College, we have a full range of webinars for the whole school developed in line with the latest government guidance, and designed by leading experts, to help support you during the COVID-19 pandemic.

You will also gain full access to our entire range of Essential CPD courses and can roll-out statutory training to the entire school workforce safely. Our training is available 24/7 and can be accessed from any PC, laptop, or smart device.

In addition, our brand-new mobile app makes it ideal for fitting training in around busy schedules and learners can easily pause, resume, and revisit training at any time.

Join Today