Whilst it seems Covid and its impact on the day-to-day running of schools may extend far longer than had been hoped, it’s clear schools have made substantial strides in their ability to deliver learning. As we adjust to a shifted, and to a certain extent still shifting, landscape it is critical we understand what effect the past eighteen months have had on pupils.

The impact of the pandemic and the need to catch up

The substitution of teacher-based assessments for traditional exams and record high results should not mask the fact the pandemic has had a severe impact on the education and probable life outcomes of all pupils in Britain. While the real extent will be unknown for some time, the effect could be even longer lasting. It’s critical for schools to understand what that impact has been, and on which pupils in their school. It’s also important to acknowledge the implied pressure of references to ‘catching up’ or ‘making up for lost ground’ on both school staff and pupils.

A problem exposed and exacerbated, not created

Inequality in academic attainment, and corresponding life outcome, is not a novel issue. Whilst performance gaps have been closing in recent years, they are still substantial. Given that the gap has now stopped closing, and in some ways appears to be growing, interventions enacted in the short term must address the recent deficit. Long-term, planned and sustainable changes must be made to more effectively address differences in attainment.

Varied and variable levels of impact

The impact on learning will vary between pupils, even within the same classroom. Access to technology, family support and home life, to support positive engagement with remote learning, to their own personal ability to cope with the changes. FSM and SEND pupils are the most obvious to be concerned about, but schools should not make assumptions about where support is required.

A limit to school-oriented intervention

Many factors play a part in determining academic attainment and life outcome. Quality of schools and teaching are limited in their ability to mitigate issues related to pupil background – be they directly or indirectly connected to poverty, family structure, race and gender, or community. Perhaps most obviously but not necessarily spoken about, the academic abilities, personality traits, and interests of individual pupils play no small part too. It is worth considering what is possible, and appropriate, for schools to do in this regard, as well as how schools can address the needs of these diverse audiences, down to the individual level.

A wealth of opportunity for improvement

Schools have been hives of initiative over the course of pandemic, not least in how they deliver learning. Schools have incorporated technology to enable remote learning or reduce the burden of marking, and have collaborated with parents and carers to support pupils at home. Taking advantage of, and expanding upon, successful evolutions in education are crucial in addressing not only the impact of COVID-19 but also longstanding gaps in attainment. Given the tumult, there are also ongoing conversations about many aspects of education, from the future of examinations to the role of schools in the community. This provides a fantastic opportunity to take stock and make positive, lasting changes.

Our thanks to Dr Tony Breslin, Dr Chris Wood, the Social Market Foundation, and the Sutton Trust for their contributions to this article.

This article, as with all of this term’s campaign resources, was made possible through the support of GovernorHub. GovernorHub is the leading governor collaboration tool in the country and provides 100,000 school governors, trustees and clerks with tools to communicate, share documents and access the information they need to support schools. Designed by governors, it’s a simple and easy-to-use platform that saves time, improves processes and allows boards to evidence their efforts, all in one place. Contact [email protected] to see how they can help your school or trust.