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Reports Part of series: Education & Covid-19: BERA Small Grants Fund research reports

Teaching English when schools are closed: Experiences & lessons learned

Following their closure to most students in March 2020, schools in England addressed the pedagogical challenge of remote learning using approaches that varied according not only to school culture but to broader dimensions of school advantage and disadvantage. This report focuses on how this variation manifested in English teaching in three very different secondary schools, through interviews with teachers and school leaders. It explores how pedagogy, technology use, student engagement and other aspects of English teaching and learning developed throughout the unprecedented summer term of 2020.

Report summary

Building on early studies that found significant variation between schools in terms of their approaches to and priorities for remote learning during Covid-19 school closures, this report investigates how these variations manifested at subject level, focusing on secondary-school English teaching. Through interviews with school leaders, heads of department and teachers, it considers issues such as:

  • how teachers’ online pedagogy is affected by their ability to use technology for learning, and the questions and opportunities raised by this
  • the contrast between traditional forms of literacy and the broader, multimodal literacies that operate in digital environments
  • differentials between synchronous and asynchronous learning
  • the approaches and activities that most effectively promoted student engagement and understanding.

It offers recommendations for policymakers and teachers on how to develop online learning and pedagogy in future.


Profile picture of Annabel Watson
Annabel Watson, Dr

Associate Professor in Language and Literacy Education at University of Exeter

I am a Senior Lecturer researching writing development, and teaching across MA and initial teacher education programmes. I also supervise several doctoral students working in writing pedagogy, language education and technology. My research...

Profile picture of Sara Venner
Sara Venner, Ms

Graduate Research Assistant at University of Exeter

Sara Venner is a graduate research assistant within the Graduate School of Education at the University of Exeter, with a masters’ in language and literacy from Exeter. Her research interests are mostly research into writing within the primary...

Profile picture of Anna Mountford-Zimdars
Anna Mountford-Zimdars, Dr

Associate Professor at University of Exeter

Anna Mountford-Zimdars is a professor in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Exeter and a principal fellow of the Higher Education Academy. She is the founding and academic director of the Centre for Social Mobility at Exeter....