Posted on 8th June 2021

Route to recovery - The challenge ahead

5:09 PM, 8th June 2021
Route to recovery - The challenge ahead

Route to recovery - The challenge ahead

By Dr Helen Drury

It’s fair to say that education in the last year or so has been difficult.

The massive school disruption resulting from Covid-19 has increased the challenges that we as teachers face, but it’s also shone a light on them and shown that many are familiar territory.

Disadvantaged pupils in particular have been impacted by lost learning due to the pandemic – with the gap between them and their peers growing, as shown in a number of studies over recent months:

  • The NFER and Nuffield Foundation study found that teachers in the most deprived schools were almost three times more likely to report that their pupils were four months or more behind, compared to teachers in the least deprived school.
  • The UCL Institute of Education study of Key Stage 3 maths teaching found that teaching during lockdown unsurprisingly looked very different from usual – and that participation was often unequal. Pupils with low prior attainment and disadvantaged pupils were participating less and, when they did, were less engaged.
  • The EEF study assessing the extent to which Key Stage 1 pupils’ attainment in reading and maths were impacted by the first lockdown found that there was a large and concerning gap for disadvantaged pupils.
  • Juniper Education’s National Dataset report found that the pupils most affected by school closures were disadvantaged children as well as Year 1 and SEN pupils.

At Ark Curriculum Plus, we’ve found it useful to classify four types of learning gap:

  1. Curriculum gap
    This describes those missed opportunities to learn – and over the last year or so these might have arisen because pupils were out of the classroom, so not accessing certain lessons, or because the teacher has decided not to cover certain parts of the curriculum that were less appropriate for remote learning.
  2. Knowledge gap
    Even if a pupil has been taught something, there could still be a gap in their knowledge – so this describes where pupils are not secure in their understanding of certain area of the curriculum.
  3. Attainment gap
    These curriculum gaps and knowledge gaps result in an attainment gap. This is the gap between where we would expect a pupil to be, and where they actually are.
  4. Group gap
    These occur where learners with certain characteristics are attaining better or worse than other learners – so for example, the gap between more advantaged and less advantaged pupils, or between different genders.

The route to recovery

As part of the Ark schools family, helping to close the attainment gap is in our DNA.

Students at Ark schools (where 42% are from disadvantaged backgrounds) achieve half a grade higher than their peers nationally in every subject. They also double their chances of going to university.

Though the disadvantage gap is bigger than ever, we know that an excellent education (through an ambitious, knowledge-rich, coherent curriculum, combined with high-quality teaching) is the most important way to put children on an equal footing.

Our unique relationship with Ark schools has enabled us to develop a really powerful evidence-meets-practice approach which combines expert research with classroom practitioner experience.

The evidence tells us that professional development is the most cost effective and the highest impact way to improve teaching and leadership.

Evidence is also clear that being taught by an expert teacher has an even bigger positive impact on disadvantaged children.

At Ark Curriculum Plus we’ve always known that it’s you, the teacher, that makes the difference and our programmes are particularly focused on accelerating teacher expertise.

Whilst we know that much we are doing is already having an impact, the challenges of Covid-19 have acted as a catalyst for doing even more because clearly there’s no time to waste. We’ve fine-tuned our programmes to further support you and your pupils on the route to recovery through:

Focused curriculum

Our curricula are:

  • ambitious in breadth and depth for every pupil
  • knowledge-rich – with knowledge that’s precisely defined and selected for its power, relevance and use
  • logically sequenced – so you get a coherent and connected whole.

This really helps with closing that curriculum gap, because you can be clear about the curriculum content that pupils have and haven’t been taught.

All of the carefully defined content in our curricula are important, but we’ve identified a subset of the core content as critical and have shown this in our curriculum maps.

Quality teaching

By carefully identifying both the core knowledge and skills for each subject and phase and the critical content that’s the real catalyst for success, we’re able to support you in focusing on these areas. We’ve built this support into our programmes in two key ways:

  1. Additional booster units for the start of the school year which focus on critical content from the previous year.
  2. Pre-teach resources – where diagnostic assessment identifies that pupils lack the pre-requisite knowledge for a unit, we provide resources for you to help pupils gain the knowledge and skills they need for success.

After a year of disrupted learning, pupils have an even more diverse range of needs than ever – that’s why we’re providing differentiated tasks. In our primary maths programme, we offer activities for increased and decreased scaffold for every lesson. In our secondary English programme, we already have differentiated pathways – and in our Year 9 programme for secondary maths, we’ve increased the provision of differentiated activities to help prepare for GCSE.

Unit-specific professional development, found in our MyMastery staging posts, equips you, cover teachers or TAs with enhanced subject knowledge and pedagogical expertise to deliver great lessons. Our Leadership and Tailored programmes provide additional support through a dedicated subject mentor.

Purposeful assessment

After this period of prolonged disruption, we know that pupils are going to have a variety of curriculum and knowledge gaps and that you’ll already be using a variety of in-lesson assessment strategies to check for understanding and to support pupils with gaps.

We’ve identified the critical knowledge and skills in each unit, to help you focus your in-class assessment and response on those, and we provide diagnostic assessments to inform and focus teaching to close the gaps.

We’ve got new checks at the start of each unit which will help you to identify if pupils have the necessary pre-requisite knowledge before they start the unit, with signposts to reteach lessons where needed.

We’ve always had in-lesson assessment activities and we’re raising the profile of these and making sure that we’re giving all our teachers support to regularly check in on understanding.

At the end of each unit there are further diagnostic assessments to evaluate what pupils have learnt, with advice on next steps.


Knowledge-rich curricula, where the content’s precisely defined and carefully sequenced, already does an enormous amount of the heavy lifting for successful intervention. But we’ve now built in diagnostic assessments to identify the pre-requisite knowledge and misconceptions with guidance on how to address this.

We’re also providing structured tuition for one-to-one or small group intervention for pupils who need additional support.

Mastery for all

We’ve made it a particular priority to make sure that teacher guidance is there to meet every pupils’ needs, informed by in-lesson and diagnostic assessments.

Our mastery approach delivers student success through empowered teaching and we’re here to provide you on-going partnership and support through our dedicated subject teaching experts on your route to recovery.