these impressive results played out across the cohort. We were on track to have narrowed our gap between disadvantaged and non- disadvantaged from 13 per cent to 2 per cent.”

“Tutoring is not, and cannot be, a substitute

for great quality teaching. However, if used in a targeted way, then it is a powerful supplement. It allows students to revisit previous concepts, consolidate what happens in class, and it helps students build confidence.”

What else can schools do? The government’s official guidance for schools reopening in September, which suggests that some pupils may need to learn a narrower range of subjects or drop GCSE courses to help them catch up, has been met with a mixed response, with some teachers fearing a ‘watered-down’ curriculum. Aside from cutting non-core subjects, there are

a number of other measures schools can take to help narrow the learning gap. In a recent webinar hosted by MyTutor, Dele Rotimi, Head of School at Hackney’s Urswick School, shared some insight on the academic and pastoral initiatives they’re currently running and planning to implement from September. These include:

• Running mock exams for the Year 10 Cohort in September to assess learning gaps and ensure teaching focuses on areas of need.

• Increasing contact time with key support agents for students who may be struggling, including school counsellors, educational psychologists and speech and language therapists.

• Setting up behaviour logs for pupils with social and emotional needs, as part of a vulnerable learners programme to provide bespoke support over the course of a year.

• Bringing in additional high-quality support staff in English, Maths and Science. These will be young graduates who want to pursue a career in teaching.

• Providing academic mentoring.

• Ring-fencing a pot of money for Head of Departments to apply to the Head Teacher for funding for specific teaching and learning initiatives that will help to close learning gaps.

One of our other webinar contributors, Mark

Enser (author and Head of Geography at Heathfield Community College), recommended that schools consider issues of cognitive development when looking at the root cause of learning gaps for disadvantaged students - specifically, a lack of prior knowledge, poor working memory, and difficulties with attention.

To tackle these issues, Mark recommends: In-class - teaching practices

• Supporting working memory with visual cues, for example by leaving bullet points up on the board while explaining topics verbally, or by using diagrams. To avoid scaffolding too much for more confident students, these visual cues could be

displayed on mini whiteboards on specific students’ desks.

• Reducing the number of distractions in the classroom to avoid overloading students’ working memory and helping them to focus on the ‘one thing’ they need to know. You might do this by removing garish displays, getting rid of distracting personal devices and managing noise and conversation levels in-class.

Out of class - metacognitive & self-regulation practices

• Promoting the most effective, proven revision techniques, including self-quizzing, summarising and self-explanation, which will help students to have a better, more realistic understanding of what they have and haven’t learned.

• Providing a specific, week-by-week framework of topics to revise, so that students know exactly what they should be focusing on. In addition, providing personalised learning checklists that set specific tasks and activities - for example ‘explain how waterfalls are formed’.

• Using a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) such as Firefly to make it easy for pupils to access all the resources, activities and tasks they need in one place, combating ‘fatalism’ and preventing students becoming overwhelmed by revision.

Final thought: what can parents do? Perhaps understandably, after the uncertainty, anxiety and stress of lockdown, many parents might feel that the priority over summer is for their children to have a break, and to cut down on passive screen time. And that’s definitely a fair perspective! However, for those children that face the most

serious gaps in their learning, it’s worth investing a few hours per week in catch-up revision over the holidays to try to make up some ground ahead of September. There are lots of brilliant online tools to support with this, including Oak National Academy, BBC’s GCSE Bitesize, and MyTutor’s own video bank of recorded group tutorials in GCSE English, Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Biology.

July/August 2020 27

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