As schools have fully re-opened and all pupils have been welcomed back into the classroom, the questions of What now? and What next? move into focus.

The UK government has announced a package of funding measures to support schools with catch-up programmes. Longer school days and shorter holidays are under consideration.

Research into how far behind pupils are in their progress and attainment - and the longer lasting effects of disrupted learning - is also being conducted.

Returning to school

Pupils returning to school after a period of remote education have had varied and disparate experiences.

Some have experienced loss; some have missed schools’ social and structural aspects; some were disadvantaged by the lack of access to face-to-face teaching by knowledgeable, trained professionals.

However, there is another end to this spectrum where some pupils have thrived and become more engaged, driven, motivated and self-regulated learners. They may have enjoyed remote learning, have not looked forward to returning to the classroom, and may even be anxious about the idea of being around more people again.

There have been many disadvantages and advantages to remote education and returning to the classroom for all pupils. How to manage the impact of these does not come with a simple ‘catch-all’ solution.

What is learning loss?

Professor Becky Francis (CEO of the Education Endowment Foundation) recently stated in an interview that children have “experienced the pandemic very differently, in terms of, for example, their region, their school, their social background and of course their circumstances as well. We know that overall, there has been learning loss”.

The idea of ‘learning loss’ or ‘recovery of learning’ is central to both the Government strategies and funded support plans and is evidenced in recent and ongoing research.

The use of ‘deficit-based’ language needs careful consideration. Its use around pupils may add pressure by implying that they are not performing well enough, need to do better, or are not trying hard enough. Its use in school staff conversations may unnecessarily intensify pressure on staff and school leaders in what has already been a very difficult and turbulent year.

How to support individual learning needs

The individual needs of pupils, particularly those who are classed as vulnerable and/or disadvantaged, may be wide-ranging, will not always be immediately apparent, and may be exacerbated or resolved by returning to the classroom environment. This depends on their experiences of remote learning, lockdown, and the pandemic.

Responding effectively to these needs will require some level of individual learning plans; managing and supporting these, both as an individual member of staff and as a school, will take carefully considered planning, support, resources, and robust assessments and evaluation.

In the same interview with Professor Francis, the EEF’s recommended three-tier approach (‘high-quality teaching’, ‘targeted academic support’ and ‘wider strategies to support readiness for learning’) was also discussed. They considered the fact that this “holistic approach will be doubly important at the present time to really support young people in a well-rounded way”.

How can you ensure readiness for learning?

So what about ‘readiness for learning’? This can be an area that is less defined, more difficult to measure and assess, and harder to address in a meaningful and tangible way.

Whilst some aspects, such as attendance, may be more straightforward, potential issues such as confidence, engagement with learning, pupil wellbeing/mental health, motivation, aspirations etc., may be less so.

Schools as a whole, and individual staff members, may be less equipped in terms of resources, knowledge, skills and strategies to address these. Therefore, sharing good practice, CPD, support, and a coherent school strategy for ensuring pupils are ‘ready to learn’ will be key.

The fact of the matter is that these have always been key. With an increase in the number of vulnerable/disadvantaged pupils, learning loss for the majority of pupils, widening attainment gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged pupils, and the ongoing social, emotional and psychological effects of the pandemic, it is time to bring this as much into focus as academic progress and attainment.

Schools need to consider how best to address individual needs, look at best practice case studies and evidence-based research.

Strategies need to be focussed and flexible, with plans for short, medium and long-term goals and outcomes. Pupils need to be involved in creating, implementing and reviewing their individual learning plan to encourage engagement and self-regulation.

Above all of this, the process of supporting pupils to ‘recover learning’ is not going to be a quick one. Therefore, individual learning plans need to be adopted to be effective and sustainable for schools, staff, and pupils, without placing undue pressure or compromising mental health and wellbeing.

In summary…

It is likely that in the coming weeks, months and years, the terms ‘vulnerable’ and ‘disadvantaged’ will be broader and encompass more pupils than in previous times.

Schools need to respond to this with clearly defined strategies for the short, medium and long-term - flexibility and responsiveness - informed by evidence-based research.

Creating and implementing individual learning plans can be an effective way of ensuring pupils ‘recover learning’, but it is crucial that ‘readiness to learn’ is not sacrificed in an attempt to address academic progress and attainment; doing so would be counter-productive to the success of the plans and the outcomes for pupils.

Making these plans additional to other work will only add to the workload. It may unduly increase pressure on staff and, ultimately, pupils. As such, embedding plans into a structure such as the tiered approach of high-quality teaching, targeted academic support, and wider strategies will support a cohesive, rounded approach. To work effectively, it is paramount that staff receive high-quality CPD, resources, and support. Staff and pupil mental health and wellbeing must remain at the forefront.

Have you thought of joining The National College?

The webinar, Creating and Implementing Individual Teaching and Learning Plans for Vulnerable and Disadvantaged Pupils After Remote Education, will provide headteachers, school leaders, teachers and teaching assistants with strategies, best practice and resources to support English as an Additional Language (EAL) pupils with language development, social integration and academic achievement after a period of remote education.

Our extensive webinar library explores many parts of DfE guidance in more depth, explaining what it means specifically for schools and colleges. Click the link to view our library and make a booking immediately.

Alternatively, become a member of The National College and get instant access to all our past and future webinars. Our training covers topics on the latest policy, practice and research for the education sector, designed by leading experts, to empower school leaders, teachers, staff & governors.

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