Back to school - but how will Norfolk children catch up?
PUBLISHED: 06:00 06 September 2020 | UPDATED: 09:40 06 September 2020
Thousands of children across Norfolk and Waveney return to school on Monday. For the majority, it will be the first time they have been in class for six months. SIMON PARKIN reports on what schools are doing to help get pupils’ education back on track...
After months of uncertainty, Monday marks a pivotal moment for pupils, teachers, school staff and parents up and down the country.
For most, the sound of the morning school bell will be a welcome sign of life starting to return to some form of normality.
With all pupils expected to return, Norfolk’s 422 schools have put in extra hygiene and safety measures, including one-way systems, staggered start times and extra cleaning to help protect children and teachers from coronavirus.
But after months of home schooling the return to school will see the majority of pupils being three months behind in their studies, according to a survey.
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The National Foundation for Educational Research’s (NFER) survey of nearly 3,000 school leaders and teachers found that 98pc felt students were not as far along with their learning as would normally be expected and on average had covered 66% of the curriculum during the 2019/20 academic year.
The survey found teachers believed boys may have fallen further behind than girls during the lockdown.
Schools have been told by the Department for Education to teach a broad curriculum in all subjects from the start of the new term, but make use of “existing flexibilities” to create time to cover the most important missed content.
For teachers it will mean a process of assessing where pupils have fallen behind and adapting the curriculum to allow them to catch-up.
For pupils in key stages 1 and 2, they have been told to prioritise identifying gaps and re-establish good progress in the essentials like phonics and reading, increasing vocabulary, writing and maths.
Penny Sheppard, headteacher at Queen’s Hill Primary School in Costessey, said: “We recognise that our pupils will have continued to have made progress with their learning in a variety of ways over the last six months.
“We will be following our normal ‘Queen’s Hill’ curriculum but we will assess the children’s knowledge and understanding from the previous year’s objectives before we start each topic or unit of work.
“Children who need some extra support to fill any gaps in their learning will have “pre-teaching” - small group work or 1-1 support - with a teacher or teaching assistant, so that they are ready to access the class learning alongside the rest of their class.”
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In secondary schools teachers have been told the majority of pupils should still be taught a full range of subjects over the year.
But for pupils in year seven, addressing gaps in English and maths might mean re-teaching essential knowledge and skills from the key stage 2 curriculum.
Northgate High School in Dereham has said its curriculum time will be between 15 and 30 minutes more than the usual ‘pre-Covid’ timetable.
Time with tutors is being temporarily suspended and together with shorter lunch breaks will instead be used as ‘catch up’ time for pupils to work on their areas where their learning has fallen behind.
At Cliff Park Ormiston Academy in Gorleston, headteacher Tasmin Poulter has written to parents stating: “There will be a period of testing at the start of the term to establish where our young people are with their learning, followed by some consolidation work. It is our intention that, within a very short space of time, children will move onto new learning.”
The Department for Education said its £1 billion catch-up support would ensure that schools have the resources they need to help all pupils make up for lost teaching time, including “targeted funding” for the most disadvantaged students.
Opposition parties said the prime minister’s promised “massive catch-up operation” had not materialised over the summer holiday and that the government’s £350 million national tutoring programme will not be fully operational until next spring.
Pupils might not be able to benefit from tutors until November – a full eight months after schools initially closed, claimed Labour.
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Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, and a former Bury St Edmunds headteacher, has urged school leaders to avoid the “terrible mistake” of prioritising extra catch up in core subjects over subjects like arts and PE.
Penny Sheppard added: “The next few weeks are likely to be challenging but we know that our staff will do their very best to ensure children continue to develop a passion for learning across the whole curriculum.
“The majority of children are extremely resilient and flexible and will soon adapt to the “new normal” and extra support will be in place for those who need it.
“Most importantly, the staff are really looking forward to being back in classrooms with their pupils.”
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