Lost learning, widened gaps, further disadvantaged, fallen behind; is this the children of the pandemic? The doom rhetoric around children who are severely impacted educationally, socially and mentally by Covid, is now reaching its peak.
Along with it, comes the feeling of pressure, on children, on families and on schools to ‘catch them up’ making it a high stakes scramble for finding the lost learning and somehow giving it back. We all know that sick feeling when we have lost something, the frantic clambering as we re-trace our steps, offering up a prayer to Araikasu Amman: the goddess of lost things, visiting all those places it should be and not finding it.
We also know how unproductive that feeling is; we must not do this to our children, our families or ourselves when they return to school, this ‘looking for lost learning.’ We need purpose now, not pressure or panic and we don’t need a high stakes re-tracing of our steps either. Not a circus of intervention, not just doing more stuff and not just adding more hours or removing holidays. Just get the children back, just teach them, just let them learn. Can it be that straightforward?
Just Get Them Back
Listen to the Family Voice:
Schools are offering the best remote learning they can, with the resources and access available to them. At the David Ross Education Trust and other trusts like ours, schools are talking to every family, every week; making those connections and keeping in touch with how things truly are. We hear these family voices to make sure children are ok but also to inform how we transition back into school when we welcome students back. This kind of ‘data’ will help us usualise things for our children on return and our form tutors have a wealth of it.
Now, more than ever, children need to feel emotionally safe in the classroom and we know that clear and familiar routines and high expectations, warmly applied, achieves this. The classroom must be a place where everyone knows our Way, where teachers teach and learners learn, where there is no interruption in the flow. For every school, this needs to be re-established, clearly communicated and preciously guarded.
Our interactions, every single one, must reflect our warmness and our thorough care of each other. Teacher to teacher, teacher to student and student to student. We have been practising this in our well-being calls for weeks and in our feedback to students; we don’t lose it now. We carry on acknowledging each other, celebrating each other, supporting each other and seeing each other. In the last 6 weeks we have awarded nearly 50,000 achievement points. We wear our hearts on our sleeves, yes our expectations are high, but so is our praise.
Just Teach Them
Trust the experts:
There will be temptation towards a recovery curriculum and/or ‘off the shelf’ catch up curricula that promise the world with their magic; I would say, trust your curriculum and subject experts. I am sure you will have already, over time, developed beautiful and rich curriculum for your subjects, you will know the powerful knowledge your students need to have. Call on your subject experts to map this knowledge now- considering the time left, what is the most powerful knowledge students need from our curriculum; then just teach it. Don’t lose the breadth, don’t throw subjects like Drama, Art, Design and Technology to the margins and raise up monolithic ‘core subject’ structures because some ‘lost learning’ is more important than others. It is the knowledge that is important, your subject experts will know.
Don’t do more
It really isn’t the case that we just do more stuff for longer so we can squeeze in all the learning that has been lost. Some things are going to have to go and we will need a laser focus on the most powerful knowledge that remains, then sequence it well. Schools will already have effective intervention programs that support learning within their context that have addressed non-Covid related learning needs as part of their curriculum- surely this continues, with a new focus on the most important things first. Adding time to the school day, adding weekends to the school week, adding summer holidays to the school term; whilst I am not against it, I do worry about its use and the equity of the application of it for children across the UK. Also, exhaustion of the learner concerns me.
Just Let them Learn
Keep the Good:
We know that children thrive when they feel successful and that what they do matters. In our haste to fit everything in, we must not lose the good things, the things that make their souls sing. The arts, sport and practical subjects and a well-structured enrichment program can often be seen as a place to pinch time and I think this is a false economy.
Sometimes a drama lesson, or after school rock band or the coding club is a child’s place to shine. We must let them continue to have that place, to shine and let others see their light.
Purpose not Pressure:
Teachers and children all know that when we return, we have important work to do; it is crucial though, that they feel the purpose of this, not the pressure. Purpose comes from involvement and investing in the good work we do, knowing its worth and our own part in it are aligned. Purpose feels like a momentum that comes from learning together and belonging to the work.
Pressure, however, comes from a different place, an audit culture, a search for deficiency along with a hothousing antidote, and it feels like a hasty, high stakes juggernaut that has little regard for the people in it.
When the children are right here in front of us again, they still need the ‘well-being calls’, not the actual call but the weekly focused checking in, the ‘how are you and how’s your family?’ type awareness from their tutors, teachers and pastoral team. We still need to know how our students are and our responsiveness to this, which has been excellent in the pandemic, has to continue. The warmth and care from us, the sensitivity of our signposting for support, the vigilance on the effectiveness of that support and the diligence of referrals; this is still under our guardianship, as staff.
So if we just get children back into school, teach them really well and remove barriers to learning- are we finding the lost learning and giving it back? Not really. I would say we are, as ever in schools, having our subject experts map what children need to know, sequence it, then teach it to them in the most effective way we can; helping them learn it, know it and retain it. While, all the time, providing warmth and thorough care.
We don’t need to retrace our steps; it didn’t fall behind the sofa, we don’t need to call upon the goddess of lost things, we just don’t need her. Because learning is not a lost thing.