Has Teaching Post-Covid Lockdown Felt Different? You Are Not Alone

As part of our series looking at barriers to children’s achievement in maths, we asked one of our regular authors, Sophie Bartlett, for her thoughts on the impact of the past year on pupil confidence and attitudes to learning.

She went one better by sharing not only her views but also those of some of her 30,000 Twitter followers. So, here are some insights into how other teachers and children have reacted to the disruption of the last two years, as well as ideas for how you can best support these children over the next year.

Within the article, we recommend guides and resources from our Maths Hub that we’ve provided free to help teachers be the best they can be in class, without having to spend lots of time out of class in preparation.

However, the single most effective way to make a dramatic impact on children’s confidence and attainment in maths is through a personalised programme of one to one tuition, such as the interventions we provide at Third Space Learning – or through similar high quality one to one interventions.

For more on the role of Third Space Learning in closing the maths attainment gap, read the report from the Centre for Education and Youth (CfEY).

As the report discusses, Third Space Learning’s one-to-one tuition, and the funding we received from the NTP, offered essential support to pupils, teachers and parents throughout the pandemic.

How have children’s soft skills been affected?

When asked how the last 18 months has affected children’s soft skills, this is how teachers responded:

ImprovedNo ChangeGot Worse
Table showing the percentages of pupils’ improvement, no change or worsened soft skills.

1. Confidence

It is clear that homeschooling, and parents’ contribution to their child’s learning, has led to some pupils experiencing higher levels of maths anxiety. Whether this is through pupils becoming reliant on constant support and assistance from a parent or being left to their own devices, it has resulted in detachment and a lack of confidence in the subject. Children appear to be encountering higher levels of maths anxiety since returning to a school environment.

“I think a lot has come from parents being worried when media talks about how far behind kids are and passes on to kids. I’ve tried to reassure parents and pupils in conversations and to fit in more time on revisiting skills and more teacher modelling when doing something new.” – @DeborahMansell8

“I think resilience is one area that has suffered the most from home schooling.”

Read more: 12 Strategies To Ensure That Tutoring In Your School Is Highly Effective.

“Either children have had one to one support from a parent at home and now need a huge amount of adult reinforcement or they have been left to their own devices and now need lots of encouragement to work independently. Those who were in school had more pace, more adults and seemed to resent the return of their peers.”

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“Whilst we worried about children having missed learning opportunities and support, some had so much support from parents who just wanted to do the best for their kids – which was amazing – I found that a few of mine who would normally just get on with it had become reliant on their parents’ constant support and had lost that independence and resilience.”

A tweet from a teacher about pupil's confidence.
Tweet from a teacher about pupil confidence.
Read more:

2. Communication

The absence of a normal school routine, alongside social distancing and bubbles, has inevitably impacted children’s communication skills. One of the most beneficial aspects of a school environment is that it encourages relationships amongst peers, through daily contact and the opportunity for socialising. Sadly, the pandemic limited this, and the break from this routine contact with their peers appears to have had an impact.

“Some friendships suffered too. Where they hadn’t maintained contact, they struggled with communication when they came back to school.”

3. Behaviour

Lockdowns and the pandemic forced us to fall into new routines. Parents, pupils and teachers all had to adapt to the concept of homeschooling with little preparation. Consequently, one of the main factors affected by this dramatic change appears to be pupil behaviour.

In classrooms, pupils are continuously taught to be respectful in the shared learning space and their interactions with peers. Routine expectations eventually become habits where pupils know what is expected from them. Unfortunately, the following reflections from teachers show that whilst learning from home, some pupils appear to have lost sight of this. The behavioural teachings that are naturally enforced everyday in a school setting couldn’t be implemented in the same way from home.

“I’d say across school, we noticed that there was a change in behaviour with children when they came back to school – a lot of reminders about being kind, using kind words and playing well together was something we all noticed. There were lots of issues in Y6 in terms of inappropriate online behaviour while at home and reminders about that!” – @eenalol

A tweet from a teacher discussing how the lack of daily routine has lead to behavioural issues in their pupils.
Tweet from a teacher about behaviour issues.

“I found since we came back from lockdown my class’s behaviour got a lot worse. They weren’t able to listen and were more moody about things they didn’t want to do etc. We found across the entire school that behaviour – especially at lunchtimes – was getting worse because children were more emotional than they maybe had been before or potentially (and this is my hypothesising) forgetting how to be ‘good friends’ etc because of not having contact during lockdown. We had a lot of behaviour bubbling – which we don’t usually have. It was extremely tiresome and I found that it was quite constant in the classroom. My class especially got into lots of fights and arguments at playtimes and in the classroom I was having to explain and repeat expectations so many times!”

“I think the issue is, we expected kids to act in one way when dealing with pandemic/lockdown, but they actually ended up reacting in a completely different way.”

“I know the year group I teach there’s a lot of hormones, but everyone was so over emotional. I know I’m someone who is very firm, but fair and I have very high expectations – but the things we were having to talk about and go over were getting ridiculous. I never expected it from the class I had. Lunchtimes were the worst – I think them only being in one bubble made it worse and they were getting annoyed with each other – but some of the conversations I had to have! We’re talking about going over basic expectations like not interrupting someone when talking. It was exhausting! They were tired, we were tired and the whole thing was just too much for everyone!” – Anon Senior Leader

Which subject suffered the most?

Most teachers (72%) found that the biggest loss in learning was in writing (including spelling), particularly in children’s stamina for extended writing. 15% voted for maths, closely followed by reading (10% of teachers).

“I think reading [was affected the most] because it’s not something I could control as much. I didn’t expect them to write or do any maths at home, but you’d hope they’d have been reading and the majority of mine just weren’t so they found that hardest when they came back” – @ianaddison

“Definitely writing. It’s just not something many of them do outside of school and they really struggled with it online. Harder to catch up on it I feel compared to maths and reading.” – @misskteach1

Read more about resources to help loss of maths learning:

Should we timetable things differently this year?

With no SATs, I was able to teach much more flexibly than in previous years as I wasn’t held to a deadline. This meant that children understood their maths a lot better. I’m going to try and keep that mindset this year and realise that less content covered in depth is better than more content covered poorly!

45% of primary teachers are adjusting their timetable in some way in response to any gaps they have identified.

“We’ve noticed that writing took the biggest hit and an amazing team of people have put together a spelling program to start in September which will be amazing!” – @MissMaj_

“Never before has good pre-assessments been more important.”

“You can only teach effectively from a secure starting point and after the last 18m, those points might well be in very different places, both further ahead and behind.” – @MrAdams333

“Maths basics! Lots of times tables and operations work!” – @MissWilkinson33

“In maths I teach year 5/6 and will definitely be doing pre-topic checks to identify gaps and use recap PowerPoints” – @DeborahMansell8

At the start of Third Space Learning’s one to one interventions,
each pupil takes part in ‘Mission Zero’, a pre-topic assessment
to evaluate their maths ability and identify gaps.

“We are just doing the standard formative assessments and adjusting as I go. Don’t plan to drop any foundation subject time as that is the motivation and fun, and for many they can shine in these subjects.”

“We’re moving to a more subject-specific timetable, rather than just having afternoon of ‘Creative Curriculum’ to ensure better and more in-depth coverage of wider curriculum objectives” – @MrMullenTeachY6

“Lots of opportunities to engage with writing and developing stamina and confidence when writing.” – @hazelmpinner

“We had a focus on PSHE in the first few weeks of school and then incorporated some of our Feel Good Friday activities into our weekly timetables.” – @eenalol

A tweet from a teacher discussing the changes made to their timetable, post-pandemic.
Tweet from a teacher discussing the changes to the timetable.

“We noticed a real decline in children’s fitness and stamina. Lots were choosing to sit down during breaks/lunch instead of running around, and PE was an uphill battle with many. We spent a term looking at stamina and endurance, with an 800m run to start each session. This term we will start each session with something similar.”

“We put in an extra playtime in the afternoon as our class needed greater movement breaks and more time to reconnect with one another. It also gave us a chance to talk to them outside the classroom and build relationships.”

Read more:

Is it all bad?

I would personally love to continue with online parents’ evenings – it seems to be easier for parents (no travel = no need for childcare or taking time off work) and teachers alike! I found I was much less likely to overrun with timings when conducting meetings virtually.

77% of primary teachers recognised a variety of positives that had emerged due to the adaptations schools had to make for lockdown learning. Do any of these resonate with you?

This change to online learning meant pupils developed more familiarity and confidence with using Third Space Learning’s online interventions. Sessions continued to run throughout lockdown, meaning that the pupils accessing the sessions were still able to enjoy and progress with their one to one tutoring.

A case study review from a school about TSL's one to one interventions and how it is a positive experience for pupils being online.
School case study review of Third Space Learning’s one to one interventions.

Relationships within the school community

“From speaking to staff and parents, we feel so lucky for the community we built over lockdown and how it bought us all closer together… It was quite special really!” – @MissMaj_

“We all worked together and built ourselves up by supporting each other in the toughest of times!”

“Spending a lot more time with my kids was a lot at times, but honestly, spending lunchtimes/break times with them was wonderful. I got to be around my kids and build stronger relationships because I had to be around them. My relationship with my TA also was enhanced because we had to be so much more self-sufficient than before.” – @eenalol

“Wellbeing is recognised as important by all staff. Our team relationships are stronger and perhaps more honest.” – @Teachingandsome

A tweet from a teacher about the positive change in school community post-pandemic.
A tweet from a teacher about the positive change in the school community post-pandemic.

“Parents seem more understanding and less demanding. The fact that it’s been so challenging for everyone to adjust to seems to have created more of a supportive mentality somehow.” – @KHomyard

More learning time

Having children arrive in PE kit seems to be very popular among teachers – not only for the lesson time it saves in not having to change, but for minimising that lost property pile as much as possible!

“Not having whole school assemblies, and instead having 10 minute class meetings every day, means we have had an hour and half extra learning time each week” – @Mrs_F_nw

“Staggered starts mean a bit more time for some morning work.” – @MrMYear2

“Playtime in bubbles with just your class meant a lot less learning time lost sorting out breaktime issues across classes, and less issues in general.” – @samschoolstuff

A tweet from a teacher about the positive changes to their school timetable post-pandemic.
A tweet from a teacher about the positive changes to their school timetable post-pandemic.

Make the most of this extra time to the start of your day with some mental maths, and discover the mental maths strategies you should be using in your primary school teaching!

Other benefits for children mentioned by teachers included:

  • Labelled equipment that didn’t get lost
  • More hand washing = fewer illnesses
  • Table in rows = all children can see the board clearly
  • Better use of technology in the classroom
  • More playtime with fewer clubs/duties at lunchtime led to better quality play and calmer afternoons

Autumn term 2021: a fresh start?

As always, we start the term with the hope that we’ll be able to see out the school year as normal – but as we’ve all recently learnt, that can change with little warning. We all know children rely on routine, so we need to provide them with as much stability as possible, especially as life isn’t necessarily showing them much of that at the moment! Set high expectations from the start, get cracking with the curriculum as soon as possible, read to them – a LOT – and you can’t go far wrong!

Read more: Ready To Progress? Planning Your Curriculum Prioritisation

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