Identifying and addressing gaps in pupils’ understanding

How schools can find out how much pupils know, and do not know, after a long period of remote education due the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

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Applies to England

Remote feedback and the first weeks back in the classroom

Many pupils will have gaps in their knowledge and understanding after an extended period of remote education. These gaps could be between pupils in the same cohort (for example, a disadvantage gap or gender), or it could be one that relates to the curriculum at whole-cohort level. With this in mind, many schools are postponing any formal, summative assessment and instead focusing on lighter-touch approaches to assessment for pupils returning to the school site.

Finding out what pupils need

Sallie Stanton, Director of Education at Bedford Free School, explained how they carried out an audit of pupils’ home education to reveal any gaps: “This involved looking at curriculum maps to make sure the essentials will be covered in class, where teachers can use their questioning and assessment for learning techniques to establish what feedback pupils need, and that there are enough opportunities to practice at home.”

“We won’t do a big baseline assessment because the gap analysis would be too complex,” Sallie continued. “Instead, teachers will be more granular in their approach using low-stakes, formative assessment to identify gaps or misconceptions, for example, questioning or quizzes, and feed those findings back to the head of department. Middle and senior leaders will then look for patterns, which become mini-objectives for departmental teams to address when pupils return, and they will form a central part of the wider curriculum plan.”

Loraine Lynch-Kelly, Vice Principal at Saint Martin’s Catholic Academy has taken a similar approach, admitting that remote feedback improves when it can come from individuals’ first-hand experience: “We find whole-class feedback to be highly effective in school,” Loraine explained. “However, many of our teachers have had to move to individual feedback through email for remote learning, which has meant the loss of more detailed in-class feedback based on questioning, classroom dialogue and responsive teaching.”

Loraine explained that she is continuing to understand the gaps that have emerged. “There will be no formal, summative assessments to see what pupils know or don’t know, at least in the first few weeks of pupils being back in school (whenever that may be). The diagnostic will be in the classroom,” she said.

Strategies for identifying attainment gaps

At one multi-academy trust, subject leaders have been developing a strategy for identifying gaps. “No single, blanket approach will work equally well across all subjects,” their Deputy Chief Executive Officer, explained. “Most of our subject teams have decided that summative assessment will not be appropriate for identifying the gaps that have emerged during the outbreak. Instead, our subject-leader network will work together through fortnightly, virtual subject meetings to build a picture of gaps and make subject-specific plans for the next academic year.”

“From there, assessment can be formalised to reduce workload and ensure a shared understanding of where students are, across all classes of the same year in each school,” he continued. “This will inform teaching and adjustment to long-term curriculum planning for each department,” he said.

Case studies

Teachers can read the following case studies from schools and teachers about their experiences identifying and addressing gaps in pupils’ understanding:

Published 12 June 2020