I am emailing to clarify the situation around the government's Catch-Up funding and how St John's is using it to help our children make up for the time they were in lockdown.
First of all, can I ask you not to speak negatively to your children about the work they completed during home school. Many of our children worked extremely hard during their time at home and it is very bad for their mental wellbeing when adults, (including those in the media), tell them that they learnt nothing. It is very demoralising for those of them that made a real effort, to hear that it was all a waste of time. At St John's, we teach children that "you reap what you sow"- that you get out of life what you put in. Some of the children worked every day. Teachers have been genuinely impressed with how much work some of them did, and how they did not fall behind as a result.
Secondly, I want to explain our approach to "Catch Up".
- When the children first came back to school in March, teachers quickly assessed them during lessons. We felt it was inappropriate to use formal tests straight away, as our concern was for their mental wellbeing and settling back into school after months at home. Teachers were quickly able to find out what levels each child was working at in English and Maths and plan appropriate support for each of them. After three weeks in school, children in Years 2-6 then had a test week.
Each child's attainment is tracked throughout their time in school. This enables us to do two things:
1. We can make sure that a child stays "on-track" - that they make "expected" or better progress.
2. We can find gaps in children's learning and use our interventions and lessons to try and fill these gaps.
Obviously the impact of the lockdowns has been that some children are not on track to achieve what we would have expected from them. If, for example, your child was working at the Expected Standard in English at the end of Year 3; we would hope that they would still be working at the Expected Standard at the end of Year 4: this would be expected progress. A child doing particularly well, might make more than expected progress. So in the example above, a child making better than expected progress might have been working at the Expected Standard at the end of Year 3 and by the end of Year 4, might be working at Greater Depth.
Teachers and senior leaders have used the data from the tests to see which children have fallen behind and by how much. This information has then been used to decide our approach to catch-up. Research by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) shows that small group and individual tuition is the most effective way to enable children to make accelerated progress. This week is another test week and we will be analysing the data to see what progress has been made, and whether we need to change which children access tuition.
There are a few things that I would like to clarify:
1. Schools have been given Catch-Up funding by the DfE. Amongst other things, St John's School have used this funding to employ an additional teacher and to fund staff to run catch-up tuition before and after school. We are also using it to buy and run evidence-based Catch-Up interventions. Mrs Atkins is leading this work.
2. The children in tuition groups will change as the children's data changes.
3. Tuition before and after school is in 30 minute blocks because this is a good length of time for children to concentrate. Research shows that if young children work for longer than this, it becomes less effective.
4. We used the Spring Assessments to triage children. Those who have fallen back the furthest, are the first ones in the groups. We will use the Summer data (from this test week) to analyse the progress children have made since coming back to school in March, and to identify which children need extra tuition in the following weeks.
5. Not all tuition is after school. There are children who are receiving tuition within the school day. We are using our timetable creatively to ensure that every single minute is used to help children make progress. Mrs Harborne is working in Year 1 and Reception as an additional teacher for some of the week; Mrs Begum is working with groups and individuals across key stage 2 during lesson times and Mrs Hudson-Evans is working in Year 5 and 6 as an additional teacher.
6. We have chosen to use our own staff for tuition groups because they know the children best. Many of the external tuition providers do not employ qualified teachers. We wanted to use staff who know the curriculum, the standards expected, and can manage children's behaviour effectively.
7. Most tuition companies were only able to offer tuition during the school day. We felt strongly that allowing children to miss an English or Maths lesson with their teacher, in order to have an online tuition session with an unqualified tutor, would result in those children falling further behind. Using our own staff before and after school, means that children get their class lessons in addition to their tuition.
We hope very much that our before and after school groups, and the use of our additional staff within lessons will make a difference to the children. However, it is widely acknowledged in research, that it is going to take time for children to achieve the pre-Covid standards in English and Maths. To make a difference to children's progress quickly, the government would need to fund an additional teacher in each class so that children could be taught in groups of 15. Unfortunately their funding is not currently enough to fund two full time teachers for the entire school.
I would say again that the best support you can give your children, no matter what their age, is to read to, and with them. Children who read widely achieve better in all areas of the curriculum, even up to GCSE level. It really is the key to success in life. The other thing that can really make a difference to them is to get them to school on time. The first 20 minutes of the day (8.40am-9am) is used for lots of catch up interventions. When I walk around the school at this time of day there are small groups of children working with teaching staff in every corner of the school. If your child is late, they are missing out on this, and there is literally no spare time in the timetable for them to make that time up. If your child is 20 minutes late every day, they will have missed 1 hour and 40 minutes of catch-up, every week.