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Blog post Part of series: Covid-19, education and educational research

Closing the Covid-19 gap: Where should interventions begin?

Tom Milson, Headteacher, Eagle House School (Bramley)

This year coronavirus has put unprecedented pressure on our schools. It has been inspiring, as we continued to support our young people through the global pandemic, to see so many creative approaches to teaching and learning, such as those offered by the Oak National Academy, who delivered over 20 million lessons online.

As our pupils begin to return to school, teachers are now faced with the challenge of maintaining educational standards while supporting the process of psychological recovery. The Department for Education (2020a) has dedicated over £1 billion of additional funding to support this process, with a small, £8 million portion of it specifically dedicated to psychosocial recovery (DfE, 2020b). It is now up to school leaders to determine where they focus recovery spending in a time of great uncertainty.

The executive chairman of the Education Policy Institute (EPI), David Laws, has noted that the disadvantage gap has almost certainly widened following the outbreak of Covid-19 (Lough, 2020). Given indications that this gap was already beginning to widen before the pandemic (Hutchinson, Reader, & Akhal, 2020), it is natural that academic catch-up will be the focus for many school leaders as we return to school.

Indeed, targeted support measures recommended by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) include one-to-one or small group tuition, structured intervention programmes (such as reading) and even extended school days (EEF, 2020). Further recommendations by the EEF include supporting ‘great teaching’, assessment and feedback, and support with transitioning to a new school.

Managing my own school at above 50 per cent capacity throughout the crisis, such educational strategies have been secondary to supporting the mental health of my pupils. I foresee the start of this academic year being no different.

Research has shown that isolation and medical quarantine has a profound traumatising effect on young people and their families (Sprang & Silman, 2013), with negative psychological effects including confusion, anger and symptoms of post-traumatic stress (Brooks et al., 2020). With this in mind, it is unsurprising that over 80 per cent of young people have reported that the pandemic has negatively impacted their mental health (Young Minds, 2020)

With reported deaths now in excess of 41,000 and unpredictable local lockdowns (BBC News, 2020), we are entering a period in which pastoral care and support is fundamental to taking our pupils through this time of uncertainty. There is now a pressing need to focus on the ongoing psychological impact of the pandemic, which continues to impact on our pupils.

‘There is now a pressing need to focus on the ongoing psychological impact of the pandemic, which continues to impact our pupils.’

During one online seminar I attended during this period (Freeman, 2020) a reflection was shared which stood out for me: this has not been a continuing period of study at home; our students have been trying to learn in the midst of a global crisis.

During April this year, Professor Barry Carpenter described how we must provide children with ‘the space to be, to rediscover self, and to find their voice on learning in this issue’ (Carpenter, 2020). I believe this should continue to be our primary focus as we begin our new academic year.

As vital as it is to employ strategies to enable our students to close the attainment gap, we should begin by focussing our attention on the provision of support for psychological recovery. We must recognise and celebrate the incredible resilience of our students through the most profound crisis of a generation.


References

BBC News. (2020, September 19). Covid-19 in the UK: How many coronavirus cases are there in your area? BBC News Online. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-51768274

Brooks, S., Webster, R., Smith, L., Woodland, L., Wessely, S., Greenberg, N., & Rubin, G. (2020). The psychological impact of quarantine and how to reduce it: Rapid review of the evidence. SSRN Electronic Journal. https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3532534

Carpenter, B. (2020). A recovery curriculum: Loss and life for our children and schools post pandemic. Evidence for Learning. Retrieved from https://www.evidenceforlearning.net/recoverycurriculum/

Department for Education [DfE]. (2020a). Coronavirus (COVID-19) catch-up premium. Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-catch-up-premium#funding-allocation

Department for Education [DfE]. (2020b). Wellbeing for education return grant: S31 grant determination letter. Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/wellbeing-for-education-return-grant-s31-grant-determination-letter

Education Endowment Foundation [EEF]. (2020). COVID-19 support guide for schools. Retrieved https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/covid-19-resources/

Freeman, R. (2020, June). Getting the balance right: Online generic skills sessions. Online presentation, University College London.

Hutchinson, J., Reader, M., & Akhal, A. (2020). Education in England: Annual report 2020. London: Education Policy Institute.

Lough, C. (2020, August 26). Attainment gap ‘will never close’ if trends continue. Times Education Supplement. Retrieved from https://www.tes.com/news/attainment-gap-will-never-close-if-trends-continue

Sprang, G., & Silman, M. (2013). Posttraumatic stress disorder in parents and youth after health-related disasters. Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness, 7(1), 105–110. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1017/dmp.2013.22

Young Minds. (2020). Coronavirus: Impact on young people with mental health needs: Survey 2 Summer 2020. London: Young Minds.