Pupils and schools in Yorkshire and the Humber faced greater home learning challenges and wellbeing and mental health needs during the pandemic. These are the findings of a new joint report published by the leading UK education specialist, White Rose Maths, and the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER). The study also reveals higher rates of Covid-19 and pupil and staff absences at the point when schools re-opened, compared to other regions.
The report highlights that primary and secondary schools in Yorkshire and the Humber are making progress reducing the Covid-19 attainment gap, which had been particularly wide in the region in autumn 2020, and are prioritising recovery strategies focusing on wellbeing and mental health and additional small group and one-to-one support.
Further findings from the report show:
- Particular challenges with home learning included less access to technology; lower use of live lessons and online conversations with pupils; and lower parental engagement with home learning.
- Other challenges included health issues associated with high levels of deprivation, one of the highest rates of Covid-19 cases in the country, and increased wellbeing and mental health needs – all of which potentially exacerbated the Covid-19 attainment gap in the region.
Schools that took part in this study said their most pressing needs for further support to aid pupils’ learning recovery are: funding; support from specialist services/providers; additional teaching/support staff; support for pupils’ mental health; flexibility and autonomy over how to spend available funding; and evidence of what works in supporting pupils’ learning recovery.
Head of External Initiatives at White Rose Maths, Tony Staneff, applauded the report and its significance for education in the region:
“Our team really enjoyed working with NFER on this report. Being based in the north, we were keen to see how our region’s schools felt towards the challenges faced during Covid-19 and whether they were the same as elsewhere in the UK. Shining a light on those challenges can now help guide our schools forwards and see their pupils recovering quickly and positively.”
Dr Ben Styles, NFER’s Head of Classroom Practice and Workforce, said:
‘This study has provided an invaluable opportunity to explore regional variation in the Covid-19 attainment gap and suggests this is a factor worth exploring in large scale analysis of pupil outcomes wherever possible. The findings from this study also echo those from our other recovery research about the importance of supporting pupils’ mental health, wellbeing and social skills in addition to skills for learning. It further emphasises the need for evidence-based strategies to narrow the attainment gap’.
The research draws on feedback provided by hundreds of senior and subject leaders from mainstream primary and secondary schools in Yorkshire and the Humber. It also considers other evidence on the Covid-19 attainment gap across England and factors that may underpin any regional variation. The report is the first of its kind to drill down on the region to understand the Covid-19 attainment gap, the challenges schools face, and how best to support pupils with their recovery. Specifically, it looked into the differences in attainment in maths/numeracy and English/literacy before the pandemic began and during the pandemic, to see if the region experienced any unique challenges or systematic differences in teaching and learning.
The report concludes with several recommendations for the region’s schools to help reduce the attainment gap further, such as using specialist support services – counsellors and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), learning recovery resources such as those available from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) Teaching and Learning Toolkit and professional support services, increasing training and mentoring for teachers and support staff, and tutoring programmes.
Managing Director at White Rose Maths, Caroline Hamilton, felt upbeat about the report findings:
“There’s no denying that our schools recognise the attainment gap caused by the pandemic. We feel this report provides some positive suggestions to help schools close the gap effectively. Using services such as tutoring and additional training and mentoring for teachers can make a big difference daily for the pupils in our area.”