Covid-19 and transition to a new year group in key stage 1

By Tara Paxman, NFER Researcher and former EYFS and KS1 teacher

Following the Covid-19 outbreak, young children began to return to the classroom in the final months of the 2019/20 academic year. However, figures suggest that from 1 June, 15 per cent of all children eligible to return to the classroom did so, and by July this was only around 40 per cent [1]. Therefore, many children will have missed an extensive amount of classroom time when they return to school in the autumn term. For younger children, this represents a large proportion of their early experience of school.  

Whilst children and teachers may return to the same school in September, this is likely to feel very different, with many new rules and routines such as regular handwashing, ‘social bubbles’ and physical distancing. Moreover, the disruption and emotional impact of a global pandemic on both pupils and teachers will play a role in how schools need to adapt to the return in autumn 2020.

Transition for young children in the wake of lockdown

For young children, moving into a new year group can be an exciting yet scary time. The new structure and expectations of ‘moving up’ can make lots of experiences which were once familiar seem new all over again. Schools often adopt different models of transition, sometimes carrying over routines or structures from the previous year group or offering transition days, where children spend time in their new class in the summer term. However, due to Covid-19 many children will be less attuned to school routines and may have missed the opportunity to visit their new class.

Settling in

For many children, beginning school in September will be the first time they have been away from their parent or carer in months. This will undoubtedly have a big impact on their emotional well-being and their readiness to learn. Research into children’s attachment demonstrates the importance of children feeling safe and secure as a necessary foundation for enabling learning. During lockdown children will have experienced very different routines and structures to the ones in school and these experiences are likely to have been very diverse. Some children will have had a very structured home-learning experience whereas others’ daily routines may have been less predictable, with parents juggling childcare, home-schooling, caring and work responsibilities simultaneously. In addition, during lockdown some children may have had almost one-to-one attention from their parent or carer whereas in a classroom, the one or two adults present must divide their attention and time between all of their pupils.

As a result, children may need more time to settle into school routines this September. Gradually increasing lesson time, phasing in more independent working and offering more breaks between learning may help children cope with the re-adjustment to classroom life. Throughout the year, primary teachers will get to know their pupils really well, enabling them to identify when their pupils need emotional as well as academic support. Teaching strategies which empower children to recognise their own emotions and give them the language to talk about how they are feeling will also be instrumental in supporting teaching and learning in the post-lockdown classroom.

Assessment for learning

In the wake of lockdown, teachers’ assessment at the start of the academic year will take on even greater significance in ensuring children are supported, emotionally and academically, as they begin to learn.

To support this, teachers may want to vary the opportunities they set up for children to demonstrate their learning. Some children respond to more formal learning, in terms of sitting down at a table and preparing for a lesson, whereas for others, teachers may need to integrate their formative assessment into a child’s play, being more opportunistic with when they choose to assess. In the same way as the context of learning opportunities may need to be varied, the resources should be varied too. During lockdown, children will have worked and played with resources different to the ones they have in school; for example some children may have practised counting with household objects, like plastic bottle tops, instead of more conventional resources, such as blocks. These differing learning contexts may also affect how children respond to questioning or structured activities when practitioners are trying to assess their prior knowledge. Capturing and building on these experiences using formative methods of assessment will be important for learning going forward in 2020/21.

Support networks

Schools are a safe and secure space for children and their importance should not be underestimated as we experience life after lockdown. In particular, for children and families from disadvantaged backgrounds, schools can be a hub of support offering childcare outside of school hours, lunch meals and community outreach services which will be vital as we enter more uncertain economic conditions as the wider repercussions of the pandemic are felt. Teachers are a crucial part of these networks but they will only be able to support their pupils if they are supported too. While teachers will be supporting children and families who have experienced a global pandemic, they too have had their own experience during this time. In addition, the responsibility for additional hygiene routines throughout the day is likely to fall to teachers, adding to their daily workload. The importance of staff well-being is now more relevant than ever to care for a workforce which already reports unmanageable levels of work.[2]

Every year, teachers and practitioners are adept at getting to know children, particularly when establishing a starting point for learning at the beginning of the year. This autumn, practitioners will need to quickly identify their pupils’ needs, finding flexible ways of doing this, sensitive to the challenges presented by Covid-19. Supporting children emotionally during these unprecedented times, as well as easing them into school routines and structures will help them settle into life back at school, supporting effective teaching and learning in the coming months.

References

[1] Department for Education. (2018). Exploring teacher workload: qualitative research. Available: https://explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk/find-statistics/attendance-in-education-and-early-years-settings-during-the-coronavirus-covid-19-outbreak/2020-week-29

[2] Department for Education. (2018). Exploring teacher workload: qualitative research. Available: https://explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk/find-statistics/attendance-in-education-and-early-years-settings-during-the-coronavirus-covid-19-outbreak/2020-week-29