Catch up – and secure!

My last blog emphasised parenting as THE most important job ever. But parents are in the worst of all worlds, with schools still closed and many children missing out on vital learning. It is no-one’s fault that the virus has interfered with normal schooling. So blame is not appropriate. Nevertheless, it is the case that children in private schools, and those still attending school because their parents are key workers, are far less likely to suffer the long term consequences of missed schooling: that is bound to have an effect on future chances for some children. So at the top of the agenda is for government to make up for the educational deficit experienced by some children. It is easy to say – but far less easy to

The National Curriculum identifies three levels of achievement: developing, secure and mastery. While not every child can achieve mastery, we must ensure that catch-up strategies enable every child who can – to achieve ‘secure’.

Which children have lost out during lockdowns? Mainly the same two groups who have always lagged behind educationally – those with Special Educational Needs and disabilities, as well as those living around the poverty line. So where is the way forward? What can we all do?

Firstly, learning depends on well-being: feeling safe, well-fed, relaxed and positive enough to be fully engaged. Children have missed their friends. They have also lost the habit and routine of schooling – that timed discipline of daily engagement. Hopefully, most children will soon get back into the habit of school and reconnecting with purposeful activities – but well-being must be at the top of the agenda. Young minds must be open for new learning to happen.

Secondly, National Curriculum learning is way behind its targets. The curriculum is already overcrowded and it will take time to get children back to where they would have been if the virus had not hit. The nature of learning means that children cannot automatically access skills and information at a faster rate. Learning is not something that can be spoon-fed: too much too quickly – and they will choke on it. The danger is that some children may lose out on vital time for their learning to be assimilated and understood.

In the race against time and the need for catch-up, schools must still tread a delicate balance between the presentation of new learning – and allowing children to practise and assimilate older learning. Why is this? Most subjects, particularly Maths and English, are hierarchical, meaning that each layer of learning is built on, and dependent upon the understanding of a previous layer. In maths, real understanding relies on children performing computations sequentially – number to 10, to 100, then to 1000…. and so on. Without a sound understanding at these concrete levels, numeracy at the higher, abstract levels, cannot be applied.

Similarly for reading: children can only develop phonics in sequential groups: letters and sounds first, then CVC blending (consonant, vowel, consonant – bat, hen), followed by words with double consonants at the beginnings/ends – shop, chin, mash, blog, belt, milk …. Shovelling too much phonic learning at once, too quickly, into children’s heads – risks confusion, and will do nothing to enhance fluent reading. Children must be secure with each stage of phonic blending skills – before being moved on.

Similarly, for writing, children cannot write complex sentences, using conjunctions and clauses, before they can write simple ones – using punctuation at the level of full stops and capital letters correctly.

Where do parents come in? As we wait for schools to reopen and life to reach its new normal – parents are in a huge dilemma – how to do the best they can with learning at home. On-line is only part of the answer – especially when it’s one way and children do not have a teacher to turn to for explanation when they are stuck. At the same time, many parents also feel stuck and unsure how best to help their child.

Under the banner of ‘Parents: Help your child succeed’, my books equip parents with skills and knowledge about the National Curriculum: ready to answer any questions their child may ask. My books can unmask the mysteries of learning and help to make home-schooling more relaxed, enjoyable and productive.

I am author of thirteen books for schools, plus five for parents. If your child has SEND, Book 1: Support Your Child with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities: a guide for parents, offers all you need to know about the SEND system. Books 2 to 5: Support Your Child At The Early Years Foundation Stage, At Key Stage One, At Key Stage Two and At Key Stage Three – offer a comprehensive outline of WHAT should be taught and HOW. Available from Lulu or Amazon. Good luck with your home-schooling!

Sylvia Edwards

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