School is more than just a place to learn. It’s a community of peers and potential role models, a microcosmic society within which children spend an extraordinary amount of their childhood. What happens here affects not just their academic performance, but also the development of their social skills and self-esteem. For good or bad, the environment the school provides can also have a significant impact on their stress levels, especially for those whose stress response is already on high alert.
During the first lockdown the vast majority of four year olds were kept at home and “managed” while parents and carers worked, leading to a substantial disparity in how children spent their time. While some children read books with parents and experienced enrichment activities outdoors, the development gap between disadvantaged children and their peers widened. A wide range of factors caused the gap to grow: access to basic resources and technology, parents’ attitudes and knowledge of early development, flexibility of parent employers and sibling presence.
At the beginning of the event, Caroline Sharp, Research Director at the NFER, explained the importance of adopting an evidence-based approach for using Pupil Premium funding.
Academy trust collaboration
During the pandemic we have seen examples of academy trusts collaboratively supporting the needs of pupils and families in their schools and in the community; Academies Enterprise Trust released free animated videos to help pupils transitioning into secondary school.
This week, London Academy of Excellence (LAE) Tottenham was named the Sunday Times’ Sixth Form College of the Year. In 2020 alone, over two-thirds of pupils graduated to Russell Group universities. A remarkable accomplishment from everyone involved in the school.
In July, Kiran Gill, founder of The Difference, gave evidence to the Education Select Committee’s session on the impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable children. She warned that the trauma that vulnerable children had faced during school closures would lead to a rapid spike in exclusions. The Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, has expressed similar warnings about exclusions and the struggles that children may face when adjusting back in school.
Schools are, and will remain for some time, centre stage in the nation’s mind. Through partial closure to wider reopening, the magnificent job being done by leaders, teachers and support staff has been in the spotlight, reminding parents and the public alike just how vital schools are to their community. Coupled with this is upheaval to many people’s lives which has brought with it space to reflect on how and where we work and contribute to society. Given the ease of recruiting virtually, these circumstances lead to a great opportunity for boards to secure new trustees.
Our last blog highlighted how free schools have successfully adapted to the daunting situation the education sector finds itself in. The hard work of many free schools during this pandemic has demonstrated why they exist in the first place – to provide better opportunities to children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Community and innovation are two of the defining characteristics of the free schools programme, and this has never been more apparent than during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Since schools have closed to the majority of pupils, free school leaders and staff have been going above and beyond to provide for their pupils and communities, and they are building firm relationships along the way.
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