Post-COVID recovery: getting pupils back on track

    Published: 03 July 2020

    How will we get our pupils back on track with their learning in the new term?

    This feels like the question we are all mulling over as we plan for September. We know that, whilst some of our pupils will have successfully accessed and learned from remote learning provision and continued to make good progress, many will not have learned from all the remote learning provided, and some may not have accessed much at all. This leaves us with a very mixed picture for how we should proceed with planning the new term.

    We know that any approach needs medium- to long-term planning. Pupils will not be ‘catching up’ overnight – short-term fixes are not going to address the varied needs of learners, especially those that were not ‘keeping up’ even prior to the disruption to their schooling. The process is likely to need to go on for quite a considerable amount of time.

    Knowing that school leaders would have been considering this and the associated issues, we decided to host a free webinar back on the 17th June to address key areas of consideration and raise questions that could support thinking around getting our pupils back on track.

    For those of you that weren’t able to make the webinar, it was recorded and is available on Vimeo.




    Our aim of the session was to share our thoughts on how schools could support pupils in getting back on track. We structured our thinking around the key areas of curriculum, assessment and staff development. Of course, the great thing about addressing ways of starting and continuing the ‘catching up and keeping up’ journey is that provision and measures we take in response to this current COVID situation will continue to benefit the quality of teaching and learning, especially for our pupils that require extra support or have barriers of disadvantage that impact their learning. Without wanting to repeat the detail of the webinar, here is an overview of our thinking in those three key areas of consideration.


    There has been a lot of discussion around creating a ‘recovery curriculum’ over the last couple of months, and you may well be thinking about how this could look in your school. At this time we know that the current and future needs of our learners means that it really can’t be ‘business as usual’ with regards to our curriculum planning. There will need to be adaptations and revisions in order to reflect the wide disparity in what has or has not been covered and (more importantly) learned during the period of remote learning, what has been lost, how our pupils’ needs have changed and how this will all impact on the new academic year. If you haven’t yet read the think piece from Evidence for Learning on what a recovery curriculum may be or look like, I highly recommend having a read.

    In the webinar we discussed how the recovery curriculum as part of a transition plan needs to be a long-term project. Pupils will not have ‘caught up’ within the first half term, and short-term ‘catch-up’ measures should be regarded with a cautious eye. It is true that there will need to be some ‘Marie Kondo-ing’ of the curriculum to ensure that focus can be given to the threshold concepts and skills that are essential for pupils to progress in each subject, but we want to ensure that we keep the elements of our curriculum that ‘spark joy’: the bits that inspire and motivate, that allow connections to be made and the dots of learning joined up, build cultural capital, and, importantly, contribute to the holistic needs of our pupils. It is by viewing a recovery or transition curriculum as longer-term, that we can enable the breadth and depth to be maintained.

    This week in particular, there has been much discussion on social media about the dangers of narrowing the curriculum as a means to help pupils ‘catch up’ in the core subjects. We know that such an approach would be detrimental to all pupils but especially our disadvantaged pupils, creating greater issues in their future phases of learning.

    We all strive for a broad and balanced curriculum, not because non-core subjects are a ‘nice’ added luxury, but because there is an immeasurable value and benefit to it. A breadth of knowledge and understanding enables us to move through the world with a cultural currency allowing us to interpret ourselves and the rest of humanity. It is quite simply essential for social mobility and for people to flourish as rounded individuals. Success in the ‘core’ subjects relies heavily on the knowledge and understanding of contexts and perspectives that are developed through the wider curriculum. As we fully know, the pupils hit the hardest by a narrowed curriculum will be our disadvantaged pupils. They may not have the same access to the range of experiences or resources that allow this learning outside of school – and they need it if we are to really ever address the attainment gap. The broad and balanced curriculum is crucially important in ensuring that our pupils grow into adults that feel like they ‘belong’ in academic spaces, museums, theatres, interviews and so on.

    How schools choose to address the curriculum will be based on the specific needs of their pupils, but by viewing the recovery curriculum as a long-term process, we can hopefully avoid the pitfalls of narrowing teaching to focus predominantly on the core subjects. It is the time for subject leaders and heads of departments to reflect forwards and backwards on the scope of the curriculum: 

    • What needs to be carried over from one year-group to the next to ensure progress?
    • What opportunities are there to ensure that ‘missed’ social and cultural experiences or aspects of learning are included in the new term?
    • Where should the focus be to enable pupils to re-establish their learning behaviours?


    An essential part of any recovery curriculum that will successfully be able to identify and address gaps in learning will be assessment. Quite simply, there has never been a greater need for fantastic assessment than now, and we know that this will need to be formative in its nature since summative assessment is just incapable of offering us the information and picture of our pupils that we will need to inform planning and teaching. Formative assessment is all about eliciting better evidence that then informs decisions and leads to better learning. This isn’t a new drum that we are beating. Those who have followed the work of the Assessment Team know that we would want quality formative assessment ingrained in every lesson and every discussion about pedagogy. But, at this time, with the needs of our pupils being so diverse and when there is so much at stake in terms of how this period can affect long term educational outcomes, we want to bang that drum even louder.

    The best assessment will be able to identify gaps in learning, and inform teachers about what has been missed, lost or not retained over the spring and summer term, so that teaching and planning can respond to these needs. The needs of pupils are likely to be varied, and of course the priority is going to be in getting pupils settled and readjusted, and the re-establishing of learning habits and routines. Oracy will be a key element in this, and of course, this also is a key method of being able to gather formative assessment information (I highly recommend all teachers of all key stages check out the work of Doug Lemov in this area).

    When assessment does take place, we really want to aim for ‘low-stakes, low-threat’ techniques, for example small group activities where teachers can listen to the children discuss and ask them questions to probe their understanding. Avoid using formal tests or anything that feels ‘high stakes’, as this may cause anxiety and won’t actually provide any more ‘evidence’ for teachers than more ‘low-stakes’ approaches. Low-stakes quizzes (e.g. starting lessons with self-assessed retrieval quizzes with questions drawing on ‘last lesson, last topic, last term’) and ‘hinge’ questions are examples of classroom assessment techniques that teachers can use to ensure that their teaching is best matched to their pupils’ needs. How we use feedback will also be instrumental in pupil progress but also in the further development of independence and self-regulation in our pupils. This could be a great time to review policies to ensure that feedback is acting as a useful tool in the formative assessment belt rather than something that is time-consuming for teachers with little impact on pupils.  

    Teachers will need to be confident in all aspects of formative assessment, so that they can use a range of quick (often immediate) approaches to exploring knowledge, understanding, skills and misconceptions – and adapting teaching and feedback accordingly.  

    Staff development

    In order for gaps in learning to be identified and fixed, it is, of course, crucial that all staff, including teaching assistants, are crystal clear about the expectations of the curriculum and what pupils should be able to do, as well as the variety of strategies and techniques to assessment where pupils are.

    In terms of staff development and training, this is a really good time to identify where in the school there is excellent formative practice that could be shared in staff meetings and training. Individual teachers may have particular strengths in their use of retrieval activities, oracy, hinge questions, feedback and so on, that could be useful models to spread around the school.

    We are very aware that schools may need further support with the areas raised, and in particular, the implementation of effective formative practices to assist with the longer-term mission of pupils ‘catching up and keeping up’. In the autumn term we will be providing training on all aspects of formative assessment and rebuilding learning habits. These can be found on the CPD Hub by filtering the subject to ‘assessment’. We are particularly excited about our new ‘Back on Track: assessment and curriculum’ training which will include two full days and a twilight session. This aims to support schools with their development and implementation of formative assessment, both at classroom level and leadership level, and is a key element of the wider ‘Back on Track’ support for schools that Herts for Learning has developed. For further information about any of our Back on Track support, please contact the appropriate team or adviser below:

    Why not sign up to receive our regular subject leader emails to keep up-to-date.

    For further information about the Back on Track: assessment offer, please contact

    Back on Track support is also available for English, mathematics, science, languages, Early Years and wellbeing.

    To find out more about the Back on Track: science offer, please contact

    To find out more about the Back on Track: English offer, please contact

    To find out more about the Back on Track: mathematics offer, please contact

    To find out more about the Back on Track: languages offer, please contact

    To find out more about the Back on Track: Early Years Moving into Year 1 offer, please contact

    To find out more about the Back on Track: Early Years curriculum adjustment offer, please contact

    To find out more about the Back on Track: wellbeing offer, please contact


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