Catching up after school closure - article summary

In this week’s blog, we provide a summary of Laurie Smith’s findings from the Isaraeli catch-up programme, with his observations on what we may take forward into our own extended period of ‘closing the gaps’. If you would like sight of the full original article, please email Mel on Direct quotes in this summary are taken from Smith’s original article. 

Smith begins by clearly denoting the urgency of structured catch-up planning for schools - he notes many pupils are increasingly unlikely to return to school at all before September, along with the EEF’s latest research that "There is also mounting evidence that the education of

disadvantaged children is suffering much worse than that of others.” Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds who had been making excellent progress prior to Covid are now at risk of having that progress reversed. 

He also notes the research of the Sutton Trust, whose ‘Covid 19 Social Mobility Impact Brief’ outlines the serious inequalities of access to and completion of home-learning between independent and state schools, and pupils from varying socioeconomic backgrounds. Both the EEF and Sutton Trust findings demonstrate that the progress and attainment gaps are widening and will continue to widen - an alarming set of facts which lead Laurie Smith to explore the difficulties to be faced in ‘catching up’ those pupils who have fallen behind, and also to consider an innovative approach to addressing those difficulties. He notes that "The likely that, without targeted intervention, pupils who participated less well in online teaching during closure will be permanently disadvantaged.” 

His model of catch-up is taken from the Israeli experience in the 50s and 60s, in the wake of high levels of immigration to the newly formed nation under its ‘law of return’. Smith states that

"[Israel] found that the children of those from North Africa and the Middle East did much worse in school than those from Europe and North America. They were typically three years behind in their education and were subsequently much less successful as young adults competing for jobs.” 

Thanks to Israel’s commitment to equality of education and experience for all of its immigrants, Reuven Feuerstein was given the task of creating an innovative approach to closing the educational gaps. He worked with a highly skilled team of clinicians and educational psychologists (many of these professionals had experience working with children traumatised by the Holocaust). Their programme was radically separate from previously designated school subjects for two key reasons: 1) their research showed that a holistic approach to learning outside of divided subject areas was most suitable for rapid progress and 2) for many pupils, designated subject areas were synonymous with past and serious failure. The programme they designed was named Instrumental Enrichment (IE) and "was designed to change, over a period of two or more years, the disadvantaged students’ concept of themselves as learners, their motivation and their ability to process information.” 

The programme was designed to run alongside the curriculum and consisted mainly of non-verbal reasoning (crucial for pupils who arrived in Israel without Modern Hebrew as their mother tongue, and were learning the language alongside their usual curriculum studies and IE.) The focus of the programme was to teach pupils about themselves as learners so that those skills became embedded as they continued their studies and into their national service. The results were phenomenal - 

"two years after the intervention the students entered compulsory military training in the Israeli Army. On a test of general intelligence for all recruits derived from the American Army Alpha test, the IE group performed better than many others. Although they had typically been three years behind when entering school, they were now equal with others, for example, in promotion prospects.” 

The IE method has also been trialled in other countries and with other groups of disadvantaged learners, with equally impressive results. 

One of the difficulties in a widely instituting such a programme is identified by Smith following his examples of its success: "Schools and education systems have been reluctant to devote significant resources to a programme apparently relevant only to disadvantaged pupils and without direct relevance to the rest of the curriculum.” Other programmes since have attempted to blend the learning of IE and its clear successes with the demands of curriculum-relevant content, such as Cognitive Acceleration programmes in maths, science and English. These programmes could be invaluable for schools looking for ways to meaningfully close the gap for disadvantaged pupils. 

Again, If you would like sight of the full original article, please email Mel on Direct quotes in this summary are taken from Smith’s original article. 

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