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December 15th, 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a disruptive effect on pupils across all age groups, with a particularly troublesome impact on primary and secondary schools where essential learning and maintaining the school curriculum has often been unachievable this year. Here at Futures our Education specialists explore how schools are being affected by this increasing learning gap along with how the education sector can look to tackle the issue post-pandemic.

A new report[1] has found that almost two in three secondary schools in England have pupils self-isolating as of November 2020, which in turn  has added additional pressure onto teachers, headteachers and the pupils themselves to ensure that learning performance is continuing to progress at a normal rate throughout the crisis.

The added pressure of trying to maintain a stable learning environment throughout this time will also have had a drastic mental health impact on both those working in education and pupils. Alarmingly, recent research highlighted that 81%[2] of teachers have also raised concerns around mental health issues amongst their pupils, anticipating that both periodical learnings gaps from closures and a lack of routine will also have a detrimental effect on mental health throughout the 2020/21 academic year. This issue could be further exacerbated by overworked teachers, in addition to the systematic uncertainty and interrupted learning which could increase the growing mental health crisis that the pandemic has brought with it.

“We are speaking to lots of very tired Headteachers who are doing an amazing job working tirelessly through the non-stop crisis”, Futures Education team Regional Manager, Siân Womersley, explains. “They’re doing everything in their power to run their schools safely whilst supporting pupils and staff, working to interpret the guidance and handle COVID-19 related issues amidst being extremely busy with the day to day operations of running a school. This often means they are working evenings and weekends and likely unable to have a proper Christmas break which can be detrimental to a person’s health. It is definitely a very stressful time for education leaders at the moment.”

In addition to this, what is also clear is that there is a distinct disparity in learning continuity across all settings. Learning loss due to pandemic has shown to be greater in disadvantaged and working class children, with research[3] indicating that 51% of primary and 57% of secondary students who attend private education have accessed online lessons every day, more than twice as likely as their counterparts in state schools. Addressing these issues couldn’t be more important, research[4] has also found that the gap between more privileged and disadvantaged in England has grown by a huge 46% in this year alone.

Due to the gaps in learning and understanding for pupils after the extended period of remote education, many schools are postponing any formal assessment and instead focusing on lighter approaches to assessment that will be less stressful for pupils returning to the school environment. Other tactics to ensure a smooth transition back into a school routine are also being considered, such as organising mixed ability groups in classes to help pupils catch up and including time for student self-reflection and 1-2-1 check-in sessions.

An anonymous source who works in the education system as Head of School Improvement and Inclusion said, “When pupils initially returned after the summer, schools’ priorities were focussed on making sure that they settled back into routines and that their wider welfare needs were fully supported.  However, many have now completed assessments, from which they have re-baselined their children and young people, and a significant number have regressed because of the lockdown period.”

“Although Ofsted visits are now being carried out remotely, school leaders need to be very aware that elements of the deep dive approach are being included as part of the curriculum discussion. In terms of questions, Ofsted will be looking at how pupils’ progress has been assessed, how the curriculum has been changed as a result, and how schools are using their catch-up funding.”

“So, in summary, schools are now much more focused on closing any learning gap that might have come about as a result of the pandemic, and Ofsted will be increasingly starting to ask about this.”

With the introduction of a vaccine rolling out into circulation this week, this is a positive sign that the education system can begin returning to normal and once again provide a stable learning environment for pupils.


[1] https://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/report/tackling-the-disadvantage-gap-during-the-covid-19-crisis/

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/sep/01/disadvantaged-and-bame-pupils-lost-more-learning-study-finds

[3] https://www.the-educator.org/81-of-teachers-expect-further-declines-in-pupils-mental-health/

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/sep/01/disadvantaged-and-bame-pupils-lost-more-learning-study-finds 

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