Report shows how schools coped with pandemic challenges

Schools responded to the challenges caused by the pandemic by employing varying strategies targeting specific groups, a new report from the Department for Education has found.

The research was conducted with primary and secondary schools to understand how schools have responded to the impacts of the pandemic.

According to the research, schools faced complex challenges in the autumn 2020 term, relating to pupils’ academic progress, wellbeing, and behaviour, as well as managing ongoing to Covid-19 restrictions.

The most common challenge among primary schools in the Autumn term 2020, was the large differences in progress between pupils. For secondary schools it was pupils’ emotional and mental health. COVID-19 restrictions and staff and pupil absences were also key challenges for both phases.

As the academic year progressed, primary and secondary school leaders reported that disparities in pupils’ social, emotional and academic progress increased, with pupils having increasingly complex and variable needs.

Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds who did not attend school and/or engage well online during home-schooling seem to have been most profoundly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Schools responded to these by employing varying strategies targeting specific groups, such as those who had fallen behind in their learning, disadvantaged pupils, pupils with SEND, or transition year groups.

Schools adapted and responded rapidly and innovatively to COVID-19 restrictions and the changing needs of their pupils. They did this by making changes to the curriculum and by employing multiple strategies to support academic and pastoral issues.

Schools had to make decisions about which subjects, topics or aspects to teach and when, based on their pupil/student needs and school context. Around half of primary schools increased teaching hours for English and Maths each week compared to before COVID-19, whilst for most secondary schools weekly hours for English, Maths and Science remained the same.

Some primary and secondary schools also reported that they re-established and/or increased teaching hours per week for Personal, Social, Health and
Economic (PSHE) education and Physical Education (PE) or other outdoor activities.

Hours for subjects that involved equipment or specialist facilities (for example, music) were reduced in some schools due to practical restrictions (for example, time for disinfecting equipment).

Schools were also unable to offer some extracurricular activities that enriched pupils’ experience either academically or non-academically (trips, concerts, performances) or encouraged a sense of belonging to school, such as assemblies.

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