Thoughts on Catch Up

The gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students, which unfortunately exists anyway, is likely to have widened over the last year. How will the proposed funding of £80 per pupil (for all schools) narrow this gap? The gap will continue to exist if all students access ‘catch up’ (whatever that may be). According to Gavin Williamson, catch up can be academic or support mental health. Disadvantaged children will likely be in greater need of MH support. Meanwhile, those students who have had parental support throughout home-learning may be more likely to receive academic support.

If an extra couple of weeks of summer school is the magic bullet (which I don’t think it is), why has this not been proposed in recent years to narrow the gap?

Imagine being a student returning to school after this challenging period, where many have struggled with isolation and home learning, to be told you now need to ‘catch up’; that this catch up might include losing holiday time and/or spending longer days at school. I know my head would be hitting the table.

The small amount of extra funding allocated to schools, who will be accountable for ensuring students’ catch up’, appears to be a token gesture to show the government is doing something about education. In practice, what will this ‘catch up’ look like? My guess is a cycle of baseline assessments, targeted intervention, more assessments, updating spreadsheets, rinse and repeat.

Might it be better if we were to focus on rekindling a love of learning in our students, along with them experiencing the sense of success in education that comes with effective retrieval practice?

For ourselves, might it be better that we have the opportunity to hone our skills, to use the most effective teaching methods possible (including integrating some of the best of remote learning into our offer). We could sustainably improve the quality of teaching and learning, rather than everyone burning out ‘catching up’? We have an amazing opportunity to reflect on what works well for our students and embed effective practice to support future generations. Or, we could just ‘catch up’.

None of the above will be possible unless we trim down the curriculum to provide a level playing field. Without making changes to the curriculum, we will pile further pressure on students and teachers on the back of the pandemic’s untold impact. To plough through already content-heavy specifications/curriculums as well as catching up on ‘lost’ learning is a recipe for disaster.

The government must take proactive steps; otherwise, we subject students and teachers to time-heavy, reactionary interventions, all in the name of ‘catching up’.

Perhaps we need to draw a line in the sand and allow schools and students time to get back to normal (in addition to implementing Covid testing etc.). Perhaps the government could support students and schools by rationalising the curriculum over the medium term rather than dishing out nominal funds and expecting everyone to do even more to meet an arbitrary curriculum’s needs.

This would allow schools to identify students who have a genuine need for academic and mental health support. Specialist intervention can then be given to those that genuinely need it. This will help narrow the gap by elevating those that are underprivileged or are most in need of support.

We now have the opportunity to be proactive in improving the life chances of all students. Reactionary ‘catch up’ will be counter-productive for everyone involved.

Anthony

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