Recovery during a pandemic: the ongoing impacts of Covid-19 on schools serving deprived communities

Julie Nelson, Sarah Lynch and Caroline Sharp

02 September 2021

This report builds on an earlier policy briefing. It provides insights into schools’ support for the recovery of learning, wellbeing and opportunity, as well as challenges and support needs, once pupils returned to school full-time from March 2021. It is based on in-depth interviews with senior leaders in 50 mainstream primary and secondary schools across England, predominantly serving deprived populations.

Key Findings

  • Curriculum modification was a typical recovery strategy. We identified four models: narrow (prioritising literacy and numeracy over other subjects); focused (prioritising core content within subjects); blended (supporting literacy and numeracy through other subjects); and continuous (covering content over a longer period of time). Schools adopting narrow approaches were often responding to perceived accountability pressures.
  • Pupils’ wellbeing and mental health was an immediate, pressing concern. Most leaders reported a deterioration in wellbeing, especially increased anxiety. A substantial minority noted an increase in severe mental health issues, including self-harm. Schools found it difficult to secure specialist external support, calling for properly-funded services and a multi-agency approach, to mitigate further mental health deterioration.
  • Pupils were less emotionally and academically ready for transition than usual, especially those moving between early years, reception and Year 1, and those moving from Year 6 to Year 7. This was exacerbated by disruption to normal transition events.
  • School leaders identified the following key support needs: properly-funded professional support for pupil wellbeing (most urgent), flexible holistic recovery funding for schools, for leaders to deploy according to individual setting/pupil needs; and ongoing (medium/long-term) support for academic recovery.

Sponsor Details

Nuffield Foundation