Research School Network: Into the Unknown? How other evidence can shine a light on an unprecedented situation

Into the Unknown?

How other evidence can shine a light on an unprecedented situation

by Bradford Research School
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There are many clichés we can use to describe the current situation facing us: uncharted territory; into the unknown; flying by the seat of our pants. When we are in an unprecedented situation, we look for anything that can support our decision making. We can’t say for sure, but we can take previous studies and attempt to relate them to the current climate using other data and our professional expertise. Here we apply that idea to questions we are sure you are all asking.

How much learning will be lost?

There are a number of studies that explore learning loss due to school closures, and the evidence has been explored by the EEF in the Impact of school closures on the attainment gap rapid evidence summary. Most studies on learning loss do not look at unplanned closures of the length we are experiencing, so we can’t say anything with certainty. There is sufficient evidence to suggest that school closures will lead to a loss of learning, and a widening of the gap between disadvantaged children and their peers.

Online learning itself does not necessarily lead to a widening gap, but there is significant evidence that children from the most disadvantaged families are spending less time on learning activities, are submitting less work and typically have access to fewer resources at home.”

The Sutton Trust, in a research brief on the impact of school shutdowns, state the following:

In the most deprived schools, 15% of teachers report that more than a third of their students would not have adequate access to an electronic device for learning from home, compared to only 2% in the most affluent state schools. 12% of those in the most deprived schools also felt that more than a third of their students would not have adequate internet access.

The rapid evidence review cannot take into account the other implications of Covid-19 e.g. health and economic factors, both of which will have a large impact on all pupils, particularly the most disadvantaged.

Learning loss is sadly inevitable. Schools should use strategies to mitigate for this, and begin considering how to approach the closing of these gaps when pupils return.

How should we close gaps when pupils return?

Recommendation 3 of the rapid evidence assessment is: Sustained support will be needed to help disadvantaged pupils catch up.

Schools will want to deliver interventions targeted on catching pupils up. When delivering interventions in mathematics and literacy, a good place to start could be the EEF’s guidance reports. The following all have sections on targeted interventions:

Improving Mathematics in the Early Years and Key Stage 1
Improving Mathematics in Key Stages 2 and 3
Improving Literacy in Key Stage 1
Improving Literacy in Key Stage 2
Improving Literacy in Secondary Schools

You might also want to check out our blogs on literacy interventions:
Literacy Interventions Part 1: Choosing Interventions
Literacy Interventions Part 2: Delivering Interventions

One way to give targeted support is through tutoring. One to one tuition is an intervention which, according to the EEF toolkit, offers an additional 5 months of progress. There are a number of evaluations of tutoring programs on the EEF website too. Obviously none were under the current conditions, but they can give us a starting point. One promising project is The Tutor Trust, which provides affordable tuition to primary and secondary schools by recruiting and training university students as paid tutors.

Tutoring delivered by teachers ends up as quite expensive, so small group tuition, which shares some benefits but is less costly, could be considered. Teaching assistants can deliver catch-up interventions and will have greater impact when they are experienced and well trained. There are more studies supporting the effectiveness at primary school, and for subjects like reading and mathematics.

What else can we do right now?

Another rapid evidence review, which we wrote about here, is the EEF’s summary of remote learning. With the same caveats as before, they set out 5 recommendations for remote teaching:

  1. Teaching quality is more important than how lessons are delivered
  2. Ensuring access to technology is key, particularly for disadvantaged pupils
  3. Peer interactions can provide motivation and improve learning outcomes
  4. Supporting pupils to work independently can improve learning outcomes
  5. Different approaches to remote learning suit different tasks and types of content

We should also consider our approaches to parental engagement. Not always easy at the best of times, it is certainly a challenge right now. The EEF have put together an extensive list of resources to support parents here, and of course there is the Working with Parents to Support Children’s Learning guidance report to help steer approaches.

In a rapidly changing climate, where we cannot say with certainty exactly what our situation will be tomorrow, let alone in September, we can at least call upon the best available evidence to shine a light.

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