Designing a Recovery Curriculum

3 July 2020

Mike Garvey, co-hub manager of Herts and Bucks Hub, reviews research on designing a recovery programme

With the slow return of some groups to school, it is perhaps time to give detailed thought to what the so-called Recovery Curriculum might look like, particularly in time for September. There are number of different approaches we could consider but getting the balance between academic and emotional recovery is clearly very complex. Do we take a pragmatic well-worn path of mass assessment on the student’s return leading to bespoke intervention with its usual corollary of staff exhaustion and overload, and the 'often heart-breaking struggle to compel those furthest behind to do work they’ve spent years avoiding'? (Newmark, 2020) Do we take time to have detailed conversations with our students about their perceived gaps and streamline our curriculum to the key concepts? Should we Maslow before we Bloom?

There has been some useful guidance from Carpenter in a recent think piece – Loss and Life for our children and schools post pandemic, which has suggested that the Recovery Curriculum should include five key levers. This would include taking time to understand the needs of the community and engaging them 'in the transitioning of learning back into school' (Carpenter, 2020). Students will feel anxious about the lost learning time so being transparent how we are addressing these gaps and teacher should help 'rebuild their confidence as learners through metacognition'. 

Source: Oxfordshire School Inclusion Team (OXSIT)


Carpenter also refers to the importance of investing in and restoring relationships and providing space for our students to rebuild their learning voice. In essence, ensuring we should 'put [our] humanity first and foremost' and concentrate on values that really matter, rather than investing in an extensive intervention plan. We also need to factor in ways to counter the anxiety which can impede effective memory retention, spend time co-constructing the curriculum with students on their return in a transitional stage. To ease the anxiety of transition, Carpenter suggested that guidance on saying goodbye can be useful tool for students including perhaps writing a letter of thanks to their Year 6 teacher. 

The Centre for Global Development suggested a different approach where the emphasis is on creating 'a simplified curriculum of select core components'. They suggest that a focus on basic core literacy, numeracy but also 'high-quality remedial tutoring for marginalised students who have missed prolonged periods of schooling', which might include the use of existing platforms and 'evidence suggests that high-quality adaptive-technology-aided after-school instruction programs can accelerate learning growth, particularly for those furthest behind'. They suggest also there is a value in continuing to take advantage of the increased parental engagement which has occurred to varying degrees during Covid-19. Many schools will undoubtedly take advantage of greater staff knowledge of online platforms to craft accelerated courses to fill the gaps. Please read my colleague’s blog for more on this (here).

The EEF have provided some useful guidance in terms of designing a Recovery Curriculum, analysing the effects of extending the school day, small group and one-to-one tuition, as well as providing parents with additional books and educational resources to families over the summer holidays, with support and guidance. Clearly summer programmes have their value  if led by experienced colleagues but obviously issues around attendance may be key especially as the opportunity to enjoy a holiday for some increases as the country slowly opens us. 

However, it is worth reflecting on the increased value of some recent pedagogical trends in solving some of our recovery curriculum issues - notably the use of spaced learning and the pause lesson to revisit a topic which might have had superficial coverage during lockdown. Clearly the increased use of recorded lessons and audio powerpoints which has made up the diet of asynchronous learning can be mobilised to deal with gaps for all students including the higher potential and SEND students. As Neville-Smith suggested in a recent Cambridge Assessment International Education blog on the Danish Covid education experience, “the pandemic has highlighted that we have some highly motivated students and parents, and that we can use technology to try new and exciting things”. Above all else, it has given the opportunity for the profession to share resources more freely and openly – a process which could become the new norm.

Colleagues might also reflect on developments in understanding cognitive overload (see excellent guidance from New South Wales) in the Covid and Post-Covid context, where researchers at the University of Peking indicate that online sessions between 15 to 30 minutes are most effective, and this should make us, as Ning and Corcoran stipulate, 'reflect on how effective current models of education are where students sit in classrooms for hours upon hours with few breaks'. Covid has reminded also of the need to deal urgently with the digital divide and about the extent of 'anxiety, uncertainty, fear and isolation' that students can experience around their learning; higher order thinking can only occur in a secure educational environment. A Unesco report reminded us of the necessity to keep checking in with students to make sure that they are coping, the importance of routines as well as of students working and connecting with each other with their learning through online calls. 

It may be that students by necessity have become more independent as they have had to manage their workload and be more self-reflective than previously but without the time to engage in detailed group or one-to-one conversations with our students - see Ollie Lovell’s excellent blog and reflection tool - it is difficult to see how we can make genuine and effective attempts to make up the losses of the last few months, particularly for our disadvantaged students.

Further reading: 

  1. Supporting the return to school for vulnerable learners (Oxfordshire Partnership in Learning) 
  2. A Recovery Curriculum: Loss and Life for our children and schools post pandemic by Barry Carpenter
  3. Planning for School Reopening and Recovery After Covid-19 (Centre for Global Development)
  4. Professor Barry Carpenter describes how a recovery curriculum could be implemented in schools (video)
  5. Chartered College Reading List 
  6. Some implications of COVID‐19 for remote learning and the future of schooling (Unesco) 
  7. How China’s Schools Are Getting Through Covid-19 By Annie Ning and Betsy Corcoran
  8. Innovative Schools Find Lessons — and Opportunities — in Remote Learning By Gaia Ines Fasso
  9. How to have that lockdown conversation with a student who didn’t do any work during lockdown
  10. The Covid-19 lockdown and the opportunity to transform education By Conrad Hughes
  11. Covid-19 Support Guide for Schools