The conversation about schools and Covid-19 has rightly focused on the public health measures needed to get children back to school safely.
But, with most now back in the classroom, schools and teachers are turning to the next challenge: what can be done to catch up on any unfinished learning since schools were closed in July?
Our research shows that disadvantaged students, in particular, are likely to have struggled to stay on track during school closures. And several studies have confirmed that lockdowns have exacerbated mental health problems for some, especially teenagers.
During lockdowns, teachers have often been challenged to find ways to support these students. Unfortunately, the end of lockdowns doesn’t mean these challenges will magically go away.
Where students have missed a large amount of learning, teachers can’t be expected to catch it all up in the remaining weeks of the year. Getting some children back on track will take much longer.
Focusing more on literacy, particularly reading, and numeracy makes a lot of sense. A solid understanding of these fundamentals is essential to help students grasp new learning.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has announced $383 million for a second round of intensive tutoring for schoolchildren next year, on top of the tutoring program established this year. This is good news. Smallgroup tutoring is the best shot we have to help children struggling with their learning to catch up.
Overseas evidence suggests about four months of additional learning progress is possible if the small-group tutoring is run well.
Tutoring gets results for many reasons. Students can make faster progress when tutors target their teaching to students’ specific needs. And students can also feel more confident working closely with an adult who they feel is in their corner helping them catch up. This year, the tutoring program recruited more than 7500 tutors to work in every school and help about 190,000 students.
Children identified by their teachers as needing the most help attended small-group tutoring sessions, several times a week for 10 to 20 weeks. The State Government should learn from what worked well and what did not in 2021 and ensure a new and improved ‘Version 2.0’ for 2022.
Robust assessment data will also help schools, and the Government, understand which forms of tutoring work best, and whether tutoring might be a good long-term option in NSW to help students who fall behind.
As well as tutoring, schools need to focus on student wellbeing. After the long Covid lockdown, schools will need to work hard to help students feel safe at school, reconnect with teachers and classmates. and reestablish good learning routines.
Teachers have a tough job ahead. The extension of the smallgroup tutoring program is a welcome addition to their toolkit, but it’s going to take a big effort to get all children back on track.
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