What questions do we need to consider for ‘catch-up’?

I find the term ‘catch-up’ interesting in itself. What does it even mean? Who are pupils catching-up with? Their predecessors? Their peers? An imagined view of themselves if we were not in a worldwide pandemic? How can we know where they are ‘meant to be’?

In the last few weeks, there has been a lot said about ‘catch-up’ with regards to a potential return to school next month. The conversations have been both informative and enlightening in equal measure and it’s an issue that schools are currently grappling with. As stated above, ‘catch-up’ as a term is interesting. I’ve seen some schools also focus on terms such as ‘recovery’ and ‘reconnecting’. In essence and relation to this current period, I believe it can, and needs to be, broken down into two simple questions:

  1. Where are the gaps in learning?
  2. What actions can we take to fill these gaps?

These are the two simple questions we have been asking at a whole school and department level throughout the year.

From the outset, I think there is a real danger here to overcomplicate this process of ‘catch-up’ and to use our precious time to articulate and implement a set of approaches that might, potentially, be unrealistic with the time we actually have. There has to be absolute clarity here. Without a clear and coherent focus, the nature of ‘catch-up’ may lead to further problems in the future and the widening of any said gaps as opposed to any potential solutions. All stakeholders need to be on the same page here.

I am a huge proponent of the mantra that sometimes ‘less is more’. I’ve found myself nodding along to recent tweets from @jon_hutchinson_ and @Strickomaster exploring the unpredictable and non-linear nature of progress in schools and how any future plans and strategies that might overcomplicate this issue are warning against ‘nonsense’. I also very much enjoyed @HistoryKss and his blog post on the topic. I think there needs to be a calmness and level headedness attached to this topic and the more information and discussions there are can be beneficial. ‘Catch-up’ ideas cannot become an onerous policy plan made up of pages and pages of information, it cannot be a massive move towards adopting ‘silver bullets’ which might disempower teachers in the classroom to simply do their job and there cannot be a panic in terms of our communication of any decisions we make. We need to be realistic here about our approach and what impact it may have. However, we also need to be aware that catch-up is only one part of a pupil’s return to school alongside areas such as establishing routine again and ensuring attendance procedures are working. Less is more.

In order to help my own context at school, I have put together a series of wider questions that we will need to consider at a whole school level. This will enable the two questions at the top of this post to become even more powerful.

  1. Planning
  • What does ‘catch-up’ mean to us?
  • What will ‘catch-up’ look like in action?
  • What is the relationship between in school ‘catch-up’ and any potential funding decisions we make for resources and staffing?
  • How do we ensure the needs of all pupils are met?
  1. Communication
  • How will staff be informed of our plans?
  • How will communication within our organisation be streamlined and clear to all stakeholders?
  • If necessary, will there be any further training for staff within an adapted CPD programme to ensure further teacher quality is being developed? What needs to be prioritised? What is the focus?
  • How will continued communication of plans be given throughout this period?
  1. Curriculum
  • Will any adaptations to our curriculum be needed, both at a whole school and department level?
  • Will any parts of our curriculum need to be prioritised more than others?
  • How will we ensure that tracking processes, data paths or spreadsheets do not impinge on ‘catch-up’ and remove from our core focus?
  • What value will we place in interventions and any strategy related to this?
  1. Teaching
  • What learning strategies do teachers need to use that have the greatest impact on ‘catch-up’?
  • Are these strategies communicated to staff and monitored?
  • Is there a clear focus on consolidating prior knowledge, identifying gaps in learning and implementing actions to address this? Who has ownership and responsibility here?
  • Does there need to be a rethinking on assessment procedures and plans?
  • Do teachers have the necessary conditions to simply teach?

As stated, these questions cannot become a huge policy document simply shared with staff to read and understand. They are simply a set of questions to help shape our thinking and allow a plan to be formulated before it can be distilled to stakeholders. This is a time where we also need to be reflective and think back to the previous lockdown and our approaches to when pupils initially returned to school in September. We need to trust our school systems and procedures and despite the unpredictable nature of this current situation, find a blend between effective and existing policy and any decisions relating right now to ‘catch-up’. There will be a difference here to each school context.

From September onwards, I found real power in the following:

  1. Ensuring and enabling positive teacher-pupil relationships
  2. An effective pastoral system to support pupils
  3. A whole school focus on a particular set of effective learning strategies – retrieval, quizzing, teaching from the front, low stakes assessment
  4. Developing metacognition and self-regulation
  5. Using technology to aid teaching
  6. A move towards whole class feedback
  7. Shared language and communication within school
  8. Clear understanding and awareness of workload and well-being

As a school, we had been using the 7 R’s approach to our initial recovery and reconnecting our curriculum when we returned to school in September. This is something we will be revisiting and adapting in the coming week and communicating to staff in clarity again.

We ultimately need to ensure that we do not overcomplicate this issue. We need to ensure there is a clear and coherent plan in place that isn’t overwhelming and that teachers are empowered to do what they do best, teach, identify gaps and fill them. This is a real chance to strip back our approach and to focus with absolute clarity on what will have the greatest impact on ‘catch-up’. What can be done? What will be used? What is realistic? What can we actually control?

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