Future terms: Recovering lost learning for the hardest hit

Watch the first of our Future Terms online panel series, exploring how schools can help children hit hardest by COVID-19, and make sure they don’t fall behind. 

This panel session aired on 04 June 2020. Watch the full recording below.



  • Vidhu Sood-Nicholls - Director of Fundraising, Teach First



  • 0:02 - Vidhu introduction
  • 3:33 - Dame Alison Peacock opening statements
  • 8:58 - Pedro De Bruyckere opening statements
  • 14:13 - Nathan D'Laryea opening statements
  • 18:57 - Professor Becky Francis opening statements
  • 23:57 - Question: To what extent will this disruption to schools radically change education?
  • 27:45 - Question: Would the panel support summer schools?
  • 32:58Question: How do you sensitively manage the stigma towards pupils still in school because of their vulnerable situation?
  • 36:42Question: How do we manage the multitude of challenges and solutions before us to minimise the impact of lost learning, such as longer school days or restructuring the curriculum?
  • 42:23 - Question: The BAME community are more affected by the fallout of COVID-19. How can teachers and school leaders support these communities?
  • 48:53 - Question: Can we consider GSCE grades fair with teacher assessment? How may this play out in future?
  • 53:35 - Question: What advice do you have for school leaders planning for next year?


The learning and support lost during school closures will have a longer-lasting impact on the most disadvantaged pupils. This discussion explored how schools hit hardest by COVID-19 can close the gaps.

The panel highlighted how the issue of educational inequality is not new, but one exacerbated by the current pandemic. The UK faces a massive digital divide. Children in poorer families might not have access to the internet or technology to access digital lessons. Research by the EEF found that between 2011 and 2019, the attainment gap in primary schools narrowed. Recent analysis suggests that because of COVID-19 all the progress made has been lost. The gap will increase from 19% to 75%. It's going to be a very gradual process of reopening schools, so the education sector needs to think creatively and cooperatively to solve this issue.

Despite the need to recover academic losses, research by the Chartered College of Teaching showed that the most important thing for pupils right now is the connection they have with their teacher. For many, school is a safe haven. The panel discussed that students being taught in small groups, led by their own teacher with whom they have a relationship could be effective. Students need to feel safe, and it is important that teachers, understand that students will have missed a lot of socialisation with their peers. 

Pupils hardest could hit also face further stigmitisation. The panel positioned that, when you invite a disadvantaged child to come into school ahead of their wealthier peers you put an arrow over their head saying they are 'poor' or 'falling behind'. They must not be labelled.  Teachers should avoid thinking 'what have my students lost', but instead 'what do they need to succeed'. Give them a sense of accomplishment. 

Regarding summer schools, the panel made the case for a programmatic approach. Where we carefully decide where to drive our resources. Summer schools tend to be effective within a strong academic context (which is currently challenging), with resocialisation and learning lost carefully considered as part of the puzzle. There's also a danger of being oversimplistic. Evidence has shown it is difficult to get disadvantaged children to attend summer school, while we risk overworking our teachers. The panel made the case for staggered teaching days, and viewing summer schools as part of a holistic approach to school recovery. In addition to this, Teach First’s recent Teacher Tapp survey found that 61% of teachers who responded would be open to being involved in a summer school programme.

It’s been reported that the BAME community has been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and schools have an important role to play in their recovery. Research in Holland has shown that BAME pupils are less likely to come into school when they reopen because of the health risks, which could create a greater divide. In addition to this, schools have the potential to be places of open reflection and debate – particularly in light of the Black Lives Matter protests. These recent events are a chance to address racism in schooling, such as unconscious bias when placing students in study sets or exam groups.

The panel also explained that now is an opportunity to improve cultural capital within the schooling system, expose BAME students to opportunities they might have missed, and give them the tools to go out and succeed. They recalled a recent GSCE Spanish exam that asked students to write about ballet - for a disadvantaged child, or one from a culture/ethnic background that does not engage with the art form, this is a huge mark against them.

The panel stated that the current context of teachers assessing GSCEs present us with an opportunity to emphasise the teacher/student relationship. Teachers with knowledge of their students' performance and circumstances, while maintaining professional rigour, can judge what they do or don't deserve. While there's an industry to exams, this is an opportunity to make things better in education. A teacher can use the elements they've seen a student understands for them, not against them.

To close, the panel emphasised that the current pandemic is a big opportunity for the education sector to focus on a strong, collective response and draw on the brilliance within the profession to support teachers. We must think about this creatively, and in the staggered, long-term. We need to be adaptable and courageous in our decisions. Teachers must focus on their own welfare, in order to help their students. And we must learn how important humanity is right now.


More online panels are scheduled for June and July. Register here to watch them live.

We'll be running a live Twitter debate during the panels. Join the discussion and submit your questions using #FutureTermsPanel.

Find out more about our leadership opportunities, including NPQs designed to turn teachers into inspiring leaders (including Middle Leader, Senior Leader and Headship), and our Leading Together programme, designed to bring stronger school leadership across your senior team.

We are also rolling out the Early Career Framework to support newly qualified teachers during the early stages of their careers, fully funded by the Department for Education.

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