Wellbeing during COVID-19
A Q&A with CEM’s Irenka Suto…

Irenka Suto, Assistant Director of Assessment at CEM, explains why assessment provider CEM has turned its attention to student and teacher wellbeing.


You’ve recently carried out some extensive research into teacher wellbeing – as an assessment provider, what was your motivation for doing so?
The pandemic has been tough in so many ways. Every child – and every learning journey – has been affected, and so have our hardworking teachers. They’ve negotiated an ever-changing ‘new normal’ as schools and colleges have moved through stages of closure and reopening. This has included widespread adjustment to new, remote and ‘blended’ teaching arrangements.

We wanted to understand more about what teachers are going through, and ultimately gain a better idea about how best to support them, as we’re here to help make their working lives easier.

What did the findings indicate, in terms of how teachers are currently feeling?
It’s no surprise that both in the UK and internationally, teachers are experiencing lower levels of wellbeing this year. The main driver for this appears to be an increased workload that has resulted from the conditions of the pandemic. Also, while most teachers can use online platforms successfully, many find it challenging to teach both remotely and in person simultaneously.

What about students’ wellbeing?
We’ve also conducted research with students. It’s well-established that social interactions with their teachers and with one another are critical to wellbeing and to pedagogy too. During lockdown, even students who attended school spent less time interacting with their teachers and peers, and more time working independently.

Going forward, most students – whether they attended school or worked remotely during lockdown – are eager for more interactive learning, via whole class work, small group work, and pair work.

Looking ahead, what key challenges can teachers expect to encounter across the coming academic year?
Our research indicates that many teachers have found their students to be less engaged than usual, which affects them too. They also reported that attainment gaps between the most and least able students appear to have widened.

Teaching and supporting more disparate groups of students with more varied needs will certainly be a key challenge. And of course, we don’t yet know the implications of the proposed arrangements for summer 2022.

In your view, what practical steps or actions should teachers prioritise upon returning to school this September?
The key to understanding how best to help students is to have a holistic picture of their strengths and needs. Teachers need to anchor their understanding of each student with reliable information. Alongside understanding students’ wellbeing, teachers should have objective, benchmarked data from well-standardised assessments.

CEM’s assessments measure core vocabulary, mathematics and non-verbal skills, which our 30+ years of research and experience have shown us are important for success at GCSE and A level.  Assessment data of this kind helps teachers to stretch horizons, differentiate effectively, and identify those in need of extra support. Together with other forms of assessment, it builds a holistic overview of new cohorts and classes. Being adaptive, CEM assessments provide maximum impact in the minimum amount of time.


CEM is proud to be part of Cambridge University Press & Assessment and we are working closely with experts in wellbeing at the Faculty of Education within the University of Cambridge. If you would like to be informed about our developments in this area and our assessments, sign up to receive CEM updates straight to your inbox.

To find out more about CEM and our assessments, visit: cem.org/assessmentguide.


With over 20 years’ research experience in the fields of psychological and educational assessment, Irenka Suto enjoys working with students, teachers, and other educationalists to better understand their assessment needs and find out how we can improve their experiences in education.