Everyone in the country has been, and is continuing to be, affected by COVID-19 and the real impact on children’s education will take a while to be fully understood. Education expert and author, Siobhan Skeffington, discusses the importance of RS Assessment’s white paper and why it's an unbelievably valuable tool if you want to gage a snapshot of the impact of COVID-19 so far.
Schools closed for a long period and with little notice. Children and schools were therefore impacted in vastly different ways across the country. Using data from their termly standardised assessments (PiRA, PUMA and GAPS), RS Assessment were able to analyse real-time data which reveals the impact of the closures by year group, subject, location, and socio-economic background. The key findings highlighted a widening gap in areas which have shown differences in the past and a considerable reduction in attainment over a short period of time. This gives a starting point for teachers to pinpoint the critical areas of need and target their teaching appropriately.
Analysis by Subject
Mathematics reasoning papers saw a notable drop in attainment between 2019 and 2020. The application of knowledge required for Papers 2 and 3 needs face-to-face teaching at school, as pupils can then explain their reasoning and have many opportunities for applying their skills in the classroom. It would be greatly beneficial for teachers to target activities that provide pupils with extensive opportunities to apply skills, through open ended enquiry and problem-solving activities.
Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling also showed a notable drop in attainment, however less so for spelling. This is possibly because parents often work with their children on spelling, but may not have as much confidence in teaching the fundamentals of Grammar depending on their own education background. Teachers need to focus on teaching GPS both in context and as a discreet lesson depending on the gaps in knowledge within their classroom. Teaching structured Grammar and Punctuation will enable them to ensure the pupils are able to build the steps to understanding concepts such as expanded noun phrases. It ensures pupils have the essential prior knowledge that’s so important.
It is noted pupils in receipt of pupil premium were adversely affected in all areas but particularly younger pupils. This could be because they need to have the early skills to be able to work independently which will depend on how much access the children had either to the curriculum or teaching online. As well as how confident their parents felt about teaching them at home. Younger children are developing their skills and that's so important for understanding in the later years. This was also noticeable for reading, where parents generally read with their children but may be unsure sometimes on how to help younger struggling readers. It is imperative teachers look carefully at where the pupils are using assessment tools and work from that point, rather than following the normal planning for this stage in the year.
Topics within Subjects
The topics in Maths that seem to have suffered most are Fractions and Geometry. These often need lots of practical activities and then time for application in the classroom and this would have been more difficult to teach online. These subjects need a real focus in schools.
Reading Comprehension was also an area which needs more attention as just reading by decoding words is the initial skill and it is the understanding that brings the enjoyment and unlocks the pleasure in books. Teaching through using quality texts to aid and explore understanding is vital at this time. Reading comprehension uses the skills of prediction, inference, sequencing, finding information and acquiring new vocabulary.
School Type and Location
The findings in this paper suggest that urban areas, probably with large conurbations, the North and the Midlands have all seen a significant reduction in achievement in all areas. The finding was less pronounced for Reading, possibly because this is an area most parents are used to supporting from an early age and would have continued to read with their children during the lockdown period.
This white paper probably confirms what many teachers would have thought would be the outcome of the disruption to pupils learning, but it also highlights some interesting areas in need of targeted focus going forward. Eeach school’s situation and need is different, and it is especially important to assess the needs of each pupil in each class irrespective of where they are located.
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