The National Foundation for Educational Research published a new report earlier this month investigating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on schools serving deprived communities.
Titled "Recovery during a pandemic: the ongoing impacts of Covid-19 on schools serving deprived communities", the report showed that schools have adapted their curriculum to support pupils as they try and catch up.
Leaders at the schools surveyed had used one of four models to adapt their curriculum (literacy and numeracy focus, blended focus, core content focus, and long-term focus) with those taking a literacy and numeracy focus often doing so due to a perceived pressure of external accountability.
The report also found that early years, reception and year 1 students were less emotionally and academically prepared to make the step up than in previous years, with students moving from primary to secondary school also less ready than in the past.
The report added that: "A range of urgent measures are needed to tackle widening educational inequality. There is growing evidence that the pandemic has increased inequality."
It also found evidence of a decline in pupil wellbeing and mental health, with increased anxiety noted as a result of the pandemic.
Numerous leaders at secondary schools around the UK have since called for more funding in order to help support those students struggling, the report said.
“Our report shows the continuing impact of the pandemic on mainstream schools serving deprived communities, and its adverse effect on pupils’ wellbeing, learning and transition across all age groups," said Caroline Sharp, research director at the National Federation fo Educational Research and co-author of the report.
“Schools are doing all they can to support their pupils, whose education and welfare has been so severely disrupted by Covid-19. Most are modifying the curriculum to help pupils recover missed learning, and simultaneously make progress. More research is needed to understand the implications of the various curriculum modification models identified in this research.”
Simon Jackson, headteacher at St Leonard's CE Primary School, wrote in a recent edition of The Parliamentary Review that it was necessary not to panic when discussing the need for catch up after the pandemic, but instead engage in a review that allows for correct conclusions to be drawn.
"At St Leonard’s, we will consider a curriculum review for every cohort based on the number of terms and years pupils have remaining at the school," he said.
"We will identify gaps that need filling as well as new opportunities to acquire knowledge and practise skills that will benefit them in the future. The world has changed; schools must also. This needs planning rather than rushing.
"Included in any consultation should be a thorough review of all exams, testing and inspection requirements. The pandemic has exposed a weakness in the system. In order to make progress and achieve success, there needs to be trust between government, people, profession and inspectorate."
On the topic of education inequality, Victoria School executive headteacher Pauline Robertson wrote in The Parliamentary Review that the school had looked to "poverty proof" its provision to ensure students receive the support they need, regardless of background.
"The Covid-19 pandemic has shown us that the academic gap for children from vulnerable backgrounds has increased, and as a result we have re-affirmed how we “poverty proof” our school," she said.
"We have identified our most vulnerable and more importantly what makes them more vulnerable. Narrowing the gap for the children who fall into more than one vulnerable category can prove to be quite a challenge; however, COVID-19 has allowed us to increase our focus on supporting these families and gain a clearer understanding of the negative impact upon their lives."