Summer schools, home-learning expectations and Ofsted – how experts think pupils can catch up

The education select committee heard from social mobility experts today on how pupils can catch-up as part of its inquiry into the impact of covid-19 on education.

It comes after an analysis by the Education Endowment Foundation found school closures because of the pandemic are “likely to reverse progress made to narrow the gap in the last decade”.

Here’s what we found out.


1. DfE in talks of a summer school, but ‘time is ticking’

Natalie Perera, executive director at the Education Policy Institute, said the Department for Education is looking at summer school options to help disadvantaged pupils catch up.

But children’s commissioner Anne Longfield said there’s a “window of only about two weeks” before the government “runs out of time” to set this up.

Susannah Hardyman, chief executive of Action Tutoring added “time is ticking” for both any providers and the schools to prepare.

The experts were also keen to warn against any catch-up plans being mandatory for pupils. When asked over concerns about pupils not attending, Longfield said you have to make any additional lessons “appealing, and get a whole range of people in to make them attractive and fun”.

On tutoring, Hardyman added schools working in partnership with providers is essential, as is building a good relationship with a tutor so pupils can see the value of it.


2. But how much will catch-up cost – and who will pay?

The EPI has proposed a one-year “catch-up” package of measures – such as doubling pupil premium funding for some pupils – that would cost £1.2 billion, but a summer school plan hasn’t been costed.

David Laws, EPI’s executive chairman and a former schools minister, said the treasury will be attracted by initiatives that are time-limited.

He added they will be “very concerned” about the learning loss and the impact of this on productivity, future wages and therefore tax revenue – meaning catch-up plans present a “strong cost-benefit case”.

“There may be a very good case for keeping them in education, improving their skills and going on to higher levels of qualification, rather than entering the labour market, becoming unemployed and having long-term scarring impacts.”

He said it was likely the DfE will make its pitch for funding in the expected “emergency” July budget.


3. Time for a ‘minimum common standard’ for home learning

Becky Francis, chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, said there was a risk of information overload and inappropriate instruction in the early days of closures.

But she said it’s now important to think forward and, given the “diversity of provision”, move towards a “minimum common standard that we encourage schools to build on ambitiously going forward”.

Laws added there may also be “considerable disruption” to schools through the autumn term. He said planning and giving guidance to schools now – for long-term home learning for lots of pupils – is very sensible.

He added schools will need to engage with pupils before the summer about any catch-up plans, adding announcement on this would be needed by early July at the latest.

James Turner, chief executive of the Sutton Trust, added the government needs a “national approach to catch up and we need that soon if it’s to be effective”.


4. Ofsted should look at ‘lessons learned’ during lockdown

While Ofsted inspections are currently suspended, debate is ongoing about what the inspectorate’s role in the recovery should be.

Scotland’s schools inspectorate has confirmed this week the suspension on inspections will continue when schools reopen in August. Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman, writing in Schools Week, has said Ofsted will “play its part” in “supporting the process of recovery”.

Longfield, while highlighting some European countries had increased their inspections but in a “supported way”, said there should be a focus on “catch up and support for health and wellbeing”.

“They [Ofsted] need to be part of this recovery, but a much more supportive role and really looking at how schools have responded,” she added.

Laws said there’s no reason Ofsted can’t do a report looking at best practice during lockdown without that being a “commentary on each school at time of disruption”. He said a “general lessons” piece of work would be “welcomed by most school leaders”.


5. Disadvantaged pupils face losing out in Autumn resits

Concerns over the “unconscious bias” in teacher-assessed grades were raised during the committee. Ofqual has said it won’t look at schools’ grades to check for bias towards certain groups, instead giving schools advice about how to guard against this.

Perera said the focus should now be on the autumn resit exams and making sure any disadvantaged pupils have “fair access to taking those exams, are encouraged by schools and parents to do so and the cost of exams fees do not pose a barrier”.

Turner questioned if “we are confident that lower income students are in the same position as their better off peers to be able to resit those exams in the autumn?”.

He added that, given the issues for poorer pupils with access technology and online learning, “will they be in a good position to do so and have good information, advice and guidance for those options?”

Sutton Trust research shows private school pupils are more than twice as likely as their state school counterparts to have access to online lessons every day during coronavirus closures.

When asked how any impact of this on the results of autumn exams can be mitigated, Perera said it was down to the “level of catch-up” provided.

She added: “It’s critical both during the lockdown period and when/if schools fully reopen in autumn they can support disadvantaged students to prepare for their exams if they choose to retake them. And the DfE should help to make sure costs do not pose a barrier to enable that.”

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