We are Engage• 3 Min read

18th June 2020

Looking Forward – Bridging The Attainment Gap

We’re starting to see more and more schools open their doors to pupils now, as the country tries to get back on its feet after the last three months.  For most teachers and school support staff, completely reimagining the school layout, classroom usage and timetable will have taken priority for the last few weeks, and we know our teachers have been working extremely hard to make the experience as smooth and easy as possible for the 3 million school children that have now returned.

It’s going to take a while to establish the long-term impact of Coronavirus. One of the factors that the government and the Department For Education are currently reviewing is the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and others. Around 1 in 4 children are classed as being disadvantaged or in receipt of Pupil Premium – one of the biggest challenges that teachers will face is to identify those who need extra support. This could also include pupils not considered disadvantaged by this measure, but whose parents have been impacted by job losses or perhaps have had parents working at home and therefore unable to supervise home learning to the level that their child requires.

We know that all families will have had a different experience of lockdown, but some 700,000 children are estimated to have had no access to the internet during the last three months. This means that even if schools have been able to provide a remote learning option, a large section of primary and secondary school pupils will have had no learning input at all. We know that across the UK parents have been trying to provide their children with enriching learning experiences at home. This is clear from the take up of initiatives such as Joe Wick’s PE lessons, which we included in our Big List Of Lockdown activities and has proved a favourite across the UK. However, there are children whose parents have not been able to offer any education enrichment and may have spent the lockdown without the space or equipment for adequate at home learning. It’s these children that teachers are going to have to work to identify and offer support to, if they want to reach the expected levels of attainment before the new school year starts in September.

There have been estimates from the education community that the progress made over the last few years to close the attainment gap between children from poor families and their more advantaged peers will take a decade to catch back up on. It’s clear to everyone with an interest in the education of the future generation that children are going to have fallen behind over recent months and that carries a level of unfairness. This generation of children will be the only ones to have faced disruption to their education like this in UK history.

We’ve been keeping a close eye on the solutions being suggested. The government are set to announce measures that will assist in closing the gap quickly and without detriment to the education of children who have had the opportunity to maintain or improve their level of attainment. We might see things such as:

  • The utilisation of extra or currently underused buildings in proximity to schools, to maintain distancing whilst allowing all children to return in September. A further delay to a full return from reception to Y11 will increase the gap and make it more difficult to close it in the future. It’s clear that the ideal solution to the attainment gap is getting children back into schools and getting them up to speed, and with current rules on distancing still in place there is no option but to plan for Summer Term 2020 to include social distancing of at least 1m, if not 2m
  • Utilising additional buildings and implementing the bubble system across primary and secondary education could mean a need for an additional 250,000 teachers, according to a leading academy head which clearly isn’t feasible.
  • Summer schools have been mentioned as an option, but we don’t yet know what this could mean for teachers who are desperately in need of a break after three months of providing both remote and in-person learning to separate year groups and sometimes completely different classes than they had expected for the year.
  • A more widely standardised remote learning platform and additional help for vulnerable families to access the internet either via a borrowing system or through schemes previously in the early stages to ensure all children have access to the internet.

If children are expected to try to reach a level of attainment before September, then children most at risk of not attaining this level will need additional help. With time running out before the end of the school year, it’s not yet clear how exactly these children will be identified or what extra help schools will need to plan and execute. 

We’ll be keeping a close eye on the government’s announcements later this week, keep up to date with how Engage can support teachers and schools as they prepare to reopen after the pandemic and visit our hub for all of our ‘Looking Forward’ blogs.


UPDATED 22/6/2020.

Guidance for educational settings help support disadvantaged pupils is now published. The scheme will be delivered through the Educational Endowment Foundation, who will provide group and individual tutoring. Our full update can be read here.


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