Supporting remote learning
Since March, schools have risen swiftly to extraordinary challenges – including logistical, cultural and emotional challenges – to support pupils and their families in unprecedented circumstances. They have justified their depiction as a ‘fourth emergency service’. Teachers have made herculean efforts to support home learning, and for children of key workers and the most vulnerable, schools remained open.
But of course, children learn less when they are not in school. There have been wide differences in engagement, and it has not been possible to reach every child.
Of particular concern is the impact of closures on disadvantaged pupils. Our analysis  has found that the attainment gap will widen significantly, likely at least reversing the hard-won gains made in narrowing the gap over the last decade.
What matters most now is that we are confident, concerted and evidence-driven in our approach to helping every pupil to thrive, both through face-to-face teaching where that is possible and via opportunities for learning remotely.Becky Francis
Remedying the negative effects of Covid-19 closures will require a sustained response – for all children, but particularly for those from socially disadvantaged families. To mitigate the long-term impact on learning and inequality, we must support pupils and schools more effectively than ever before.
Whilst we all hope that all pupils will be back learning in school in September, the degree to which a combination of online learning may be necessary for some, remains uncertain. A scenario in which all support for remote learning is removed, but not all pupils are back in school yet, could lead to especially poor outcomes for those young people concerned.
With that in mind there is a clear need for continuing our efforts to make remote learning as effective – and accessible – as possible. And with that comes opportunities. Opportunities to innovate through new approaches to pupil feedback, peer to peer support, or effective parental engagement. The sector has already made rapid strides in this regard due to the necessities of remote learning and online engagement during lockdown
To support these efforts, in April we published a set of new resources designed to be used by schools and parents to make the most of remote learning.
As part of this, we published a rapid evidence assessment examining the existing research (from 60 systematic reviews and meta-analyses) for approaches that schools could use, or are already using, to support the learning of pupils during school closures.
There are some really important messages within it – in particular, that teaching quality is more important than how lessons are delivered. For example, teachers might explain a new idea live or via a pre-recorded video. But what matters most is whether the explanation builds clearly on pupils’ prior learning.
While nothing can replace the individual relationships between a teacher and their pupils in the classroom, our evidence review does highlight some key steps that schools can take to make sure that home learning is as effective as possible.
One strategy is to encourage peer interaction between pupils. Another focuses on getting pupils to reflect on their learning and the progress they’re making. These are important both to increasing motivation and improving outcomes and are likely to be especially important for disadvantaged pupils at this time.
Of course, a crucial thread underpinning effective remote learning is access to the necessary technology and resources. Research by the Sutton Trust has found that 15% of teachers in deprived schools say more than a third of their students learning from home do not have adequate access to an electronic device.
The government has committed significant resources to providing disadvantaged pupils with laptops and internet access, as have many schooling organisations, but it’s clear that this will not be enough to ensure every pupil has access to the resources they need.
Covid-19 will have affected every family and school in different ways, and the strains of lockdown will have created new barriers to learning for both teachers and children. This reinforces the need to act with intelligence and in partnership, drawing on all of our system’s strengths.
In time, it might be possible to identify positive consequences of Covid-19 for schools. The extraordinary ways in which teachers have supported children and families at home have been deeply impressive. Our research on the impact of closures on the attainment gap could hardly show the importance of schools more clearly.
But for now, it is unhelpful to downplay the challenge we face. The educational impact of school closures is likely to be severe. What matters most now is that we are confident, concerted and evidence-driven in our approach to helping every pupil to thrive, both through face-to-face teaching where that is possible and via opportunities for learning remotely.