Back to school…What kind of catching up are we catching up on?


Lynn McCann argues that catching up needs to include much more than just English and Maths attainment.

Our children have been put under enormous pressure during the pandemic. They are the ones going back into crowded classrooms long before their parents were able to go back to the offices and workplaces. Children have had to work at home at a moment’s notice as bubbles burst. They have had to cope with the challenges of online learning, and some have been in school without many of their peers during the January to March lockdown, or isolated at home for much longer than most because of medical vulnerability.

The government is now intent on a ‘Catch Up’ agenda with some money (not as much as was asked for or promised) provided for a national tutoring system and a catch up curriculum focussing on English and Maths in schools. There is talk of longer school hours. Newspapers are talking about lost generations and children being damaged in their future careers, not having the education they need to succeed in life.

But let’s take a reality check here. Just what are children losing? What are they catching up to? And is it catching up if all children have had the same loss of education? What about the hard work schools have been doing and will continue to do to cover the work they were unable to do in the lockdown?

Paul Duckworth, a Primary Advisor with Blackburn Diocese Board of Education says; “…schools are good at assessment, adjusting the curriculum and addressing those gaps – focusing particularly on the things that are crucial for progress.”

Teachers know what their job is and can do it. But he also says that schools know that the catch up should also focus on the disadvantage gaps that have only been made more prominent through lockdown.

“School closures have led to widening of the disadvantage gap particularly in primary years, where those most affected included males, pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, EAL pupils and SEND pupils, who experienced less catch-up compared to the average.”

(Understanding Progress in the 2020/21 Academic Year Complete findings from the Autumn term. Renaissance Learning, Education Policy Institute

The Council for Disabled Children surveyed SEND children and their families and found that; “Three quarters (71%) of disabled children have seen their progress managing their conditions reverse or regress due to the pandemic, and disabled children, their parents and their siblings remain more isolated than the rest of the population, with 9 in 10 disabled children socially isolated and 6 in 10 parents isolated.”

(Disabled Children’s Partnership (DCP) Left Behind: The Impact of the Pandemic on Disabled Children, their Parents and Siblings)

Paul Duckworth also says that what Head Teachers feel needs to be caught up is the community and wellbeing curriculum of schools.

Jane Smith, a secondary SENCO says that we need to be asking what are these goal posts that children are missing out on and are these realistic? At her secondary school she noticed that the year 7s had missed out on relationships and play. They were still playing like primary children, and they needed that bridge to help them make the transition that they

SEND pupils may also fall under the other areas of disadvantage. They may live in poverty, they are more likely to be isolated and have missed out on support and therapies throughout lockdown. They may still be isolating because of medical conditions. And there are those who have not been able to return to school through anxiety or unmet needs.  

The I CAN charity recently published a report ‘Speaking up fo the Covid generation’ which said: “An estimated 1.5 million children and young people could be left behind, if more action is not taken to support them with their speaking and understanding of language, after missing school due to the Covid-19 pandemic.”

What should we focus on to help children catch up?

Children with SEND have missed out on therapies and essential support. Everyday skills and key communication points such as following routines, getting organised and managing the every demands of lessons are based on communication. Supporting communication could well be a vital focus, particularly as we go back after another 6 weeks off over the summer.

After months of being at home in a quiet environment and being able to manage the sensory input of their children, many parents are concerned that being back at school has heightened the sensory issues their child may have. The child’s sensory needs may be different since lockdown, having such a long period of changing environments, anxiety and different experiences may mean that many children are finding the school environment overwhelming. Some schools are building sensory or wellbeing breaks into their recovery and catch up to support this.

Taking stock of the way the child learns and how engaged they were in learning through lockdown has provided many teachers with new and enlightening information about their children. Some thrived with the 1:1 attention of parents and being able to do work at their own pace, in a safe and quiet place. Others could not manage any work at home and are still dealing with the trauma of all the disrupted learning. We may need to adapt and change the way we teach our children. Using key strategies for dyslexia, autism, and other SEND learning strategies can help many more children than we may have previously realised.

We know that so many of our children have struggled with anxiety, fear, and overwhelming emotions during this pandemic. SEND children have been more isolated than ever before. Catching up on our community wellbeing is arguably the most important and long-lasting legacy that we can give this generation of children. In this way schools are planning catching up on creativity, community projects, music, drama and art. They are getting outside and learning in forest schools, and they are talking more about emotions, emotional responses and how we support one another through these times.

We need to remain focussed on the fact that SEND children are children, and not a separate group of beings. Sometimes all children need a different and additional approach or support. Our focus should be on bringing our school community together, supporting and understanding one another. Anxious times can lead to pushing others away, but this is the time to bring each other together. We can be open about differences and difficulties, whilst celebrating understanding and acceptance. We have the opportunity to help all our children catch up on being a community, to focus on their lost skills and help them with their emotional wellbeing… English and maths are included in that too.

Lynn McCann

Lynn McCannis an autism specialist teacher working in schools across Lancashire. She is the author of “How to support pupils with ASC in Primary school”, “How to support students with ASC in secondary school” and “Stories that Explain” (a book about social stories).

T: @ReachoutASC
F: @ReachoutASC


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