How can school-charity partnerships help tackle lost learning?

28 Sep 2020, 5:00

With the national tutoring programme set to launch soon, a roundtable from earlier this year offers useful insights on making partnerships work effectively for all

With students back in school after a year of disruption, teachers have their work cut out for them. Many will be trying to carefully balance the increased need for pastoral care following this year’s distressing events, with the desire to get young people back on track academically.

How to tackle ‘lost learning’ has been on the minds of many in the sector, and worries will only have increased in light of findings from the Education Policy Institute that even before Covid-19, the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers had stopped closing for the first time in a decade.

One way to address this challenge is through school and charity partnerships. Earlier this year, Action Tutoring and the Centre for Education and Youth brought together 22 school and charity leaders to explore how these connections can be maximised to provide extra support for pupils. Our roundtable event showed that partnerships between charities and schools can be hugely beneficial when they work closely and have trust in each other.

It helps if external staff are informed about the working of the school

Since then the National Tutoring Programme has been announced; a government-funded, sector-led initiative to support schools to address the impact of Covid-19 on pupils’ learning. Action Tutoring hopes to be a part of this initiative, along with many other educational charities, and the roundtable’s conclusions can benefit all those involved in delivering on its promise.

The programme provides a whole new opportunity for partnerships. Throughout this academic year schools will be able to build new links with high-quality tutoring organisations across the country to help pupils who have suffered the most from school closures.

Certain barriers need to be overcome to make the most of these partnerships. School staff are busier now than ever, therefore any external provision needs to cause as little disruption as possible and avoid placing additional administrative burden on teachers. So how can this be achieved? The roundtable event highlighted a number of key recommendations from both school and charity leaders.

Agree on aims and how to achieve them

Organisations looking to support schools at this time need to be direct and realistic about what they can deliver, when, and what their non-negotiables are. They must make sure that goals are agreed on upfront, as one school leader explained: “Alignment is really important. Is it going to be something that we have to rejig what we do? If the answer to that is yes, is it definitely going to be worth it?”

Streamline communication

Nominating key points of contact from the outset is essential. Our roundtable contributors suggested that one ‘link’ person on each side of the partnership was the best way to keep communication smooth. At present, it is vital that partners clearly outline their Covid safeguarding procedures in advance.

It also helps if external staff are informed about the working of the school, so their interventions are in line with school policies. One charity leader explained that understanding expectations around uniform or behaviour, as well as being familiar with the timetable, helped them to operate consistently within these boundaries. They advised “over-communication in terms of logistics”.

Reflect, review, refine

Our roundtable highlighted that it is important to build in appropriate opportunities for reflection on how work is progressing and whether students are getting the right support. Schools and their partners should schedule meetings at key points in the year to make sure everything is on track.

Demonstrate impact

School leaders appreciated clear impact evaluations from charity partners, especially when communicating outcomes to governors or trustees. The design of these evaluations should be drawn up collaboratively and schools should aim to share pupil data, even if it is in an anonymised form. Meanwhile, partners should bolster quantitative findings with rich qualitative information. One school leader explained that they found “before and after quotes” from young people the “most powerful” feedback.

Our roundtable attendees worked around logistical challenges to build strong and successful relationships, which provided young people with tailored support. Using the approaches above, schools and other organisations can work together through this busy term and beyond to help students overcome the turmoil they have experienced in 2020.


A summary of the findings from the Action Tutoring and CfEY roundtable event can be found here

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