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Catch up premium – How this Year 6 teacher is spending it

My pupils have fallen behind and their concentration is worse, but they’re so grateful to be back in school, says our anonymous teacher...

  • Catch up premium – How this Year 6 teacher is spending it

Being a teacher comes with its very own unique form of guilt: there’s always more you can do to help the children in your class and therefore your job is never done.

We also place unrealistic expectations on ourselves. Every time a new union survey comes out saying the average primary school teacher works a 60 hour week, it serves to raise the bar and make those who settled on a mere 50 hours feel like they are letting the children down.

The closest we ever get to our job being done comes with the summer holiday, but this year the vacation came with an added helping of guilt.

First of all, we had the people arguing schools should have remained open throughout the holiday to help children who had fallen behind.

This usually went hand-in-hand with a belief that schools had been completely shut since the end of March and teachers had been twiddling their thumbs ever since.

Then we had a whole string of articles in the press about the things teachers needed to do to prepare for the new school year: things like learning how to be a psychologist so we can tackle the looming mental health crisis among the nation’s children.

Against this backdrop, I’ve been managing my own sense of guilt about the limited preparations I made for the new year.

I spent time cramming the desks into forward facing rows in my tiny Edwardian classroom; I looked at elements of the Y5 curriculum that my home learners may have missed out on; I studied photos in an attempt to learn the names of children who haven’t been in school for almost half a year.

However, I left the risk assessments, one-way-systems, staggered start times and playground dividers to the leadership team to sort out.

As usual, the actual start of term and the introduction of 31 new faces into my life has left me too busy to contemplate my guilt.

My approach to school has remained broadly the same as every other year: assess the children; teach them what they need; keep expectations high.

We were under instructions to focus on children’s wellbeing initially. We’ve been comparatively lucky that local infection rates have been low and we knew that we weren’t going back to children who had been beset by personal tragedy, but we still weren’t sure what the impact of the time away would have been.

The fear was that I would face a group of Y6 children who had fallen way behind, couldn’t concentrate, had forgotten the rules and didn’t want to be there.

What I actually found came as something of a relief: yes, the children had fallen behind and couldn’t concentrate for long periods, but they had remembered the rules and, above all, they really wanted to be there.

It seems the thought of spending any more time with their families has made school seem a more appealing proposition than ever before. For us teachers, the task ahead doesn’t seem impossible when faced with a motivated group of children who seem to be grateful to be back.

Despite the incessant hand-washing routines that eat into a significant portion of our day, we’ve found time to assess the children using a round of past SATs papers to discover exactly how far behind last year’s cohort they are.

The bottom half of the year fared badly, with children from large families and pupils with SEN causing particular concern. It’s easy to understand why these groups may have been particularly affected by the school closure.

Having made the assessment, we then needed to decide what we were going to do about it. With the Covid-19 catch-up premium seeming like a fairly simple proposition (£80 being allocated per child to each school), in Y6 we chose to act early and invest in a system of after-school tutoring.

Almost a third of the year group will benefit from these sessions, which will be carried out by Y6 teachers, LSAs and some previous teachers from the school who have come out of retirement to help.

The hope is that this will allow those children worst affected by this pandemic to make rapid progress.

We just have to hope that the children’s positivity doesn’t diminish when they face a hometime one hour later than usual. Perhaps the catch-up premium will prove to be one small area where the government’s intervention actually does some good.

The writer is a Y6 primary teacher in Essex.

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