Vulnerable pupils should receive tailored support to encourage them to re-engage with learning, according to a new report published today by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER).
The report also highlights the significant role that schools have played in ensuring the safety and wellbeing of vulnerable pupils, although raises concerns about the sustainability of this as schools open more widely.
Funded by the Nuffield Foundation, Support for vulnerable pupils and the children of keyworkers is the third in a series of reports exploring schools’ responses to Covid-19. The research is based on a survey of 3,054 senior leaders and teachers in mainstream schools in England. The findings were collected between 7-17 May.
Key findings from the 26-page report include:
- Asked to consider attendance in the previous week (the last week of April), almost half (44 per cent) of senior leaders reported that under ten children attended the school in person for at least one day. With low levels of attendance for in-school provision, senior leaders reported that their schools provided support to vulnerable pupils’ learning remotely through regular checking in and communication (96 per cent).
- Three in every five teachers reported that vulnerable pupils were less engaged than their classmates. Senior leaders (57 per cent) and teachers (75 per cent) reported a lack of pupil engagement in learning as one of their main challenges in supporting vulnerable pupils who were not attending school. Senior leaders in secondary schools were one and a half times more likely to report challenges engaging vulnerable pupils who were not attending school in learning, compared to leaders in primary schools.
- Three-quarters of senior leaders reported that their schools offered ‘social or welfare’ support to vulnerable pupils, often by working with other agencies. For example, many schools supported their pupils by providing food vouchers and parcels (95 per cent) and providing non-education related information (83 per cent) to assist families. Further, two in every five senior leaders reported that their staff made home visits to vulnerable pupils who were not attending school. Among teachers who conducted home visits, around half (48%) visited vulnerable pupils once a week.
- There were more concerns about the welfare of vulnerable pupils in the most deprived schools: 54 per cent of senior leaders in these schools reported significant concerns for their safety and wellbeing, relative to 35 per cent of senior leaders in the least deprived schools. Similarly, the share of senior leaders reporting that staff in their school undertook home visits ranges from 26 per cent in the most affluent schools to 46 per cent in the most deprived schools.
- Despite high levels of collaboration between schools and other agencies, there is scope for agencies to work together more closely to provide social and welfare support for vulnerable children, especially in deprived areas. A quarter of senior leaders identified this as a particular challenge, rising to 30 per cent of leaders in deprived schools.
- Many vulnerable pupils and children of keyworkers had similar – and in many cases better supported and supervised – learning provision than children at home. But, in-school activities for vulnerable pupils and keyworker children in the most deprived schools were more likely to be extra-curricular. Over a third (37 per cent) of leaders in the most deprived schools reported that their main approach towards in-school provision was providing extra-curricular activities, compared to 17 per cent in schools with the lowest levels of deprivation.
Speaking about the findings:
Carole Willis, Chief Executive at NFER, said:
“Today’s report shows how schools and their staff have taken the initiative in increasing the welfare support provided to vulnerable pupils. Given that impacts from the pandemic are likely to persist for some time, there is a need for schools to have increased levels of external support to ensure they can focus their resources on teaching and learning.
“The recent Government announcement of additional support to enable children to catch-up is welcome. However, policymakers should also specifically look at initiatives to help vulnerable pupils re-engage with learning and ensure there is adequate support for their health and wellbeing, including through social workers and other community initiatives. It will be crucial to increase their engagement and to support their parents to provide a secure and safe environment.”
Josh Hillman, Director of Education at Nuffield Foundation, added:
“It is of great concern that the most vulnerable students have been the least engaged in learning during the pandemic, particularly those from schools in the most disadvantaged areas. We welcome the Government’s catch-up plan, but if the initiative is to successfully close the ever-widening disadvantage gap, it is vital to re-engage disadvantaged pupils with learning and give particular support to those entering primary schools.”
 This report is based on findings from a national survey of 1,233 senior leaders and 1,821 teachers in publicly-funded, mainstream primary and secondary schools in England (conducted between 7-17 May 2020). Responses have been weighted by phase and free school meal (FSM) eligibility to provide a nationally representative picture.