Education post-Covid: Our principles of recovery

Written by: Yvonne Gandy | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

At the Unity Schools Partnership, the pandemic hiatus has provided an opportunity to re-evaluate and focus on what really matters in education. Yvonne Gandy looks at the trust’s principles of recovery

School leaders must have felt like desert explorers in recent months, trying to navigate an accurate course towards a hazy objective over constantly shifting sands.

It is difficult to find your way if the surface beneath you is continuously moving. It takes great skill and resolve to stay on track; to stay focused on your vision and your values.

Andy Samways is director of the Research School at Unity Schools Partnership, a family of 25 secondary, primary and special schools located mainly in Suffolk, and also on the Essex and Cambridgeshire borders and in east London.

Mr Samways and his leadership colleagues decided early on that simply reacting to the frequent changes would not be a helpful response for their schools, their staff or their pupils. What was needed was a sense of a strong framework that they could use to prepare for a future which is still uncertain and subject to dramatic last-minute changes.

He explained: “We’d been asking ourselves a lot of fundamental questions at the early and middle stages of the lockdown, including how do we help children maintain and sustain their learning away from school, and develop the strategies that will help them do this.

“It needed to be less about interventions and more about creating sustainable and incremental strategies and support to help learners be more resilient and independent because they will be spending more time learning online in most of the scenarios we have discussed.

“Advice from the Confederation of Schools and Trusts (CST) resonated with us and we’re refusing to go down a route of lots of interventions for our pupils. Instead we are very much thinking about broader principles of recovery.”

The trust held a virtual termly leadership conference in June with more than 90 senior leaders from across the 25 schools to consider these principles of recovery and begin planning next steps.

Marc Rowland, the trust’s advisor on disadvantaged and vulnerable learners, has led on the principles for recovery. These are backed up by evidence and have been developed through a characteristically collaborative approach, with Mr Rowland shaping them through work with groups of schools across the country, in particular Hope Learning Trust and Kent Catholic Schools’ Partnership. The principles span four main areas: culture; teaching and learning; academic intervention and wider approaches; and belonging.

Under the culture principle, schools are being encouraged to continue work stepped up during the lockdown, connecting with pupils and families individually so that they can understand their context.

Mr Samways says that the pandemic and its economic and emotional fallout will have taken its toll on families, making this kind of relationship-building even more important.

Under the plan, the emotional wellbeing of pupils will be put at the centre – over and above attainment – and academic staff will work closely with pastoral leads so all pupils at risk of underachievement, and their families, are supported in a co-ordinated way.

High expectations for pupils, irrespective of background or barriers to learning, is emphasised in the principles and there is an expectation that staff will be sympathetic to those pupils who have, for whatever reason, found it hard to engage with home learning.

The plan asks staff to be mindful of not lowering expectations and aspirations, especially for disadvantaged pupils. It states: “Staff at every level will nurture and support all pupils to take pride in their individual achievements. Pupils’ contributions to lessons will be encouraged and valued. Strategies such as assertive mentoring may be useful to support this principle.”

The teaching and learning principle underlines this approach, urging staff not to look at pupils as homogenous groups but to focus in a proactive way on the individual needs of pupils.

One passage from the trust’s principles for recovery will strike a chord with many leaders: “If we try to do everything we planned to do before lockdown, we’ll end up in an educational Sargasso Sea. Focus on what really matters in learning … it may be that a blended model of face-to-face teaching of reduced curriculum content, followed by consolidation, works in favour of learners, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds and those who have struggled in the classroom.”

As well as broad principles, the trust’s plan for recovery also include some practical notes of caution. It stresses the need to avoid intervention overload for disadvantaged pupils, particularly those with multiple barriers to learning, through the use of high quality provision mapping tools.

And it suggests that schools should re-evaluate their Pupil Premium strategy so that it is clearly focused on teaching and learning, with any unused funding redirected to support the reintegration of pupils through, for example, small group tuition with a focus on reading.

One-to-one and small-group tuition is considered by the Education Endowment Foundation’s (EEF) Teaching and Learning Toolkit to be one of the most effective methods, with the evidence showing it can boost pupil progress by up to five months.

This of course could well link into the government’s recently unveiled one-year, £350 million National Tutoring Programme (NTP), which is being set up to offer catch-up support to primary and secondary school pupils. In addition, schools are to receive £650 million in 2020/21 to support catch up activities

The EEF has recently produced guidance for schools on how they might best target this funding. It suggests it be spent on things like small group tuition, extra teaching capacity and intervention programmes (EEF, 2020).

For Mr Samways and his colleagues, the objective of a full return of pupils in September is finally becoming clearer, and they are hoping that the principles of recovery will give schools across the trust a revitalising focus that they can sustain for years to come.

There’s hope too for a return to at least some of the features of pre-pandemic schooling. Mr Samways added: “We’re missing what CST CEO Leora Cruddas described as the ‘ordinary magic’ of school and we are optimistic about the future, planning and preparing for a September which we know will not be normal by anyone’s measure.”

  • Yvonne Gandy is programme director of the National Professional Qualifications at Best Practice Network, which supports Outstanding Leaders Partnership to deliver the four National Professional Qualifications for school leaders. More information is available at and

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