Research School Network: Sustaining the learning of disadvantaged pupils during school lockdown What are some of the strategies schools can use to reduce the impact of school closures on disadvantaged pupils?

Sustaining the learning of disadvantaged pupils during school lockdown

What are some of the strategies schools can use to reduce the impact of school closures on disadvantaged pupils?

Marc Rowland, the Pupil Premium Adviser for Unity Research School, describes some of the strategies schools can use to reduce the impact of school closures on disadvantaged pupils.

Disadvantaged pupils are likely to be disproportionately impacted by school closures. We may well see the attainment gap widen in the short and medium term. 

Closures may impact on some pupils’ ability to access the curriculum. Whilst it is important to remember much is subject, age and context specific, here are some things that may be useful to consider when planning distance learning, through the lens of your disadvantaged pupils.

Develop a Strategy

  • Developing routines and securing well-being and pastoral care may be the greatest priorities initially. One of the great strengths of teachers – their commitment to pupils – may be their Achilles heel in the difficult circumstances we currently face. It is important not to rush to try to do too much.
  • The most sustainable, effective approaches will be developed over time (see here for help).
  • Encourage self-regulated learning to build and sustain motivation and don’t overload with tasks from multiple online platforms. An obvious, but important point: so many families may not have gardens / quiet spaces / desks / good wi-fi. This is best articulated in this Guardian article. How does distance learning work for these pupils.
  • Many parents may find it more difficult to support learning because of financial or health anxieties. Short term problems supersede long term ambitions. Keep distance learning achievable and low-stress’.
  • Regular, frequent check-ins with disadvantaged pupils will be more important than ever. Our disadvantaged pupils need to feel they belong, and that school is theirs. Maintaining a strong connection with school is vital. There will be a long-term impact, perhaps unseen at present, if pupils feel they are forgotten.

Focus on High Quality Learning

  • Use rigorous assessment to ensure that any distance learning addresses historical gaps. When schools reopen, high quality diagnostic assessment will be important, as Some pupils will have learnt more than others during school closures. 
  • Consolidation of knowledge should be prioritised over learning new content. It’s not possible to work independently on things you don’t know about and families may not be able to support the learning of new content.
  • Issuing textbooks can have benefits for pupils, parents and teachers. Pupils can have a sense of purpose and structure in working through well sequenced learning with worked examples, while the quizzes can give teachers an efficient way of assessing learning. Perhaps there will be less competition for textbooks compared with laptops, tablets and broadband within families?
  • The summer term offers an opportunity to help develop pupils’ background knowledge. This is something that has come up in a number of reviews (such as here). Background knowledge is an active ingredient of comprehension, providing a much richer understanding, whether pupils are distance learning or in the classroom. Background knowledge is credit in the bank for future learning. 
  • If improving background knowledge through TV, film and documentaries, encourage pupils and families to put the subtitles on.
  • Use scaffolding, modelling and worked examples.
  • It is important that pupils focus on achieving their personal best, rather than comparing themselves to others, especially if communicating online. Strategies such as cumulative quizzing can be really effective.
  • Encourage pupils (of all ages) to read aloud regularly and frequently. Provide structure and guidance, themes, sequencing and access to reading materials and free audiobooks where possible. Reading is an opportunity for broadening horizons and cheating confinement!
  • Conversations and discussions are more important than word exposure for language development. Interactions with words are critical.


  • Light touch communication approaches with families – e.g. text messaging –may be a helpful way of keeping in touch. Encouraging daily routines may be helpful, including regulated screen time and dedicated time without distraction to converse with an adult.
  • Use evidence about parental involvement. More than ever, we need to work together and maintain strong relationships, especially with those families that have found engagement with school life more difficult. 
  • The Easy Peasy App has been independently evaluated and the approach can improve parental engagement and children’s early developmental outcomes.
  • Attachment difficulties: I would thoroughly recommend What about me?’ by Louise Bomber.


  • The best measure of success will be the sense of belonging and connection with school that our disadvantaged pupils and families feel when we return to a more formal curriculum… When we return to the privileged days of lessons: of singing, of packed classroom chatter, of assemblies, of sports teams, of mischief, of fish and chip Friday’, and all those magical interactions that take place day in, day out, but are rarely seen.
  • Further reading and resources about home / distance learning can be found via the links here, courtesy of the Chartered College of Teaching.

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