This post does not have the answers…
Whenever and however we return to school there is no doubt that we will need to establish support to address the gaps that will exist. I suppose that is no di
fferent to what we do at the moment, but the gaps that exist may be present in students we would not previously have worked with or exacerbated in groups who have been unable to access the lessons given.

Whilst I would hope that this does not fall upon the SENCO alone to organise and deliver, it is fair to say that we have the experience in identifying gaps and suitable provisions to put in place to close them, so I suspect we will have a significant role to play.

Actually, I see this as an opportunity for us to really drill home that every teacher is responsible for every child in their class and their progress regardless of whether they are SEN or not.

“All teachers must have a clear understanding of the needs of all pupils, including those with SEND. For every teacher, it is an integral part of planning and teaching effectively. Teachers should be supported to work effectively with teaching assistants and to ensure all pupils, including those with SEND, have access to high-quality teaching” Education Endowment Foundation, 2020 EEF_Four_Common_SEND_Misconceptions.pdf


So, the question is; what provisions or interventions might be appropriate when we return?

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs tells us that before starting to deal with any educational matters we will need to ensure that the basics are met. The model below (an expanded version of the model usually seen) shows that basic and psychological needs should be met first before those required for growth and this includes our cognitive requirements.

Therefore, some of the first things schools will need to do when we return are to ensure the physiological, safety, social and esteem needs are fulfilled.


The physiological needs to be met are: breathing, food, water, shelter, clothing, comfort and sex. I’d like to assume that the last one of these is not a requirement of the children we are dealing with!

After a long period in lockdown, we know that many families may be struggling with providing some of these things. Food banks are inundated with new requests and let’s not forget the issues with free school meals and the voucher system. As a result, one of the things that schools’ may find themselves doing is to put in place their breakfast clubs and ensuring that cooked meals are available at lunch time for as many children as possible. Ironically, the basic physiological needs generally require money in order to achieve and so some of our families may need support with applying for benefits or claiming what they are entitled to. School uniforms should be reasonably priced anyway, but on return to school some children may have outgrown their shoes or shirts and with a lack of spare income in many homes it may not in a school’s best interest to pursue a strict uniform policy! School’s are not bottomless pits of money, regardless of the funds that are provided, so left with a choice between buying a child a lime green jumper and pink-piped blazer or grabbing aTblack knitted sweater from the bargain range in Asda, I know which would be preferable!

The safety needs to be met are: personal and financial security, health, order, law and protection from the elements.

During the crisis many families have and continue to struggle financially which inevitably has an impact on their children. Whilst children are not directly involved in financial matters the insecurity of family issues will be felt. We cannot assume just because our children return that their health and that of those around them has not been impacted. There is increasing evidence that the coronavirus leaves its victims with long lasting breathing difficulties. This may have an impact on teaching staff but for our children it may impact on the amount of physical exercise they are able to undertake comfortably.


The love/belonging needs to be met are: friendship, love, intimacy, family, community, belonging and relationships

We closed schools in a hurry. Families have been under strain. Communities have been splintered. Loved ones have been lost. Friendships were put on hold. All of these things need careful handling. School’s with Wellbeing Ambassadors and trained Mental Health First Aider’s will find themselves drawing on their skills. Where they haven’t already done so, schools could consider exploring trauma informed practice. Whilst in the mind of many this may seem extreme – “we’ve just had an extended break, it’s like the 6- week’s holiday” – it hasn’t been like that. We’ve been away from our routines and predictable environments, attempting to work whilst not being able to socialise or do what we would normally do during a ‘holiday’. All of this can lead to psychological distress although the children involved may not be aware or able to articulate where their feelings are coming from. Schools may need to consider additional sessions for counsellors, referrals to bereavement services or CAMHS, additional time to develop social networks again and cTommunity events to remind everyone of the support and stability still available.

The esteem needs to be met are: self-esteem, achievement, status, confidence, prestige, recognition, mastery and independence

These are the stepping stones of learning. We need to have confidence in our own ability to try to something in order to attempt new learning. If we believe that our self- esteem will not be damaged by attempting something novel then we are more likely to take the risk.



The needs to be met here are: peace, knowledge, self-fulfilment, personal growth and realisation of personal potential. They are the needs associated with cognition, aesthetic acknowledgement, self-actualisation and transcendence.

This is the range in which the majority of teachers would consider their normal working to take place. Whilst we have students in our schools whose basic and psychological needs have not been met (for example those who are looked after or who have safeguarding concerns) they do not, normally, make up the majority of our classes. Our SEN pupils regularly sit within the top tier of the psychological needs with their self-esteem, achievement, confidence, mastery and independence restricted. These will be inflated through the absence of the security education had previously provided. Therefore, in our class of 30 which previously had 7 or 8 children whose layers of the Maslow Hierarchy cake had been eroded, we will now have many more. It will require a whole culture shift from teachers in order to support and move things forward as SENCOs, Pupil Premium coordinators, mental health first aiders, counsellors and external agencies will not have the capacity to support everything!

First of all we need to identify what the gaps are. Are they found within literacy and numeracy, are they subject specific, are they more related to motor skills and social or language abilities or are they technological in nature? Once these have been established we can work on what needs to be in place to reduce them. However, the last thing that needs to happen is children returning to a testing environment! Where possible the assessment of knowledge will take a back seat to all other needs. When it does take place, it can hopefully be achieved through the least stressful process. OK, it’s easier to throw a test paper at students and have them spend 30 minutes in silence answering questions for you to mark and level, but there are alternatives!

Much of the work will fall to classroom teachers and their skills in sweeping up and filling the knowledge or skills gap, alongside delivering their new content. We know, from all the research completed by the Education Endowment Foundation, that closing gaps is not achieved by withdrawing children from their classroom content – that will only serve to widen the void further! So, most of what we do will be met through high quality teaching in the classrooms and appropriate in-class support from teachers, support staff and suitable differentiation of skills to allow the development of missing knowledge and skills. This is no different to the recommendations around good quality teaching to meet the needs of our SEN learners. EEF_High_Quality_Teaching_for_Pupils_with_SEND.pdf

The most effective teaching involves reducing cognitive load (through processes such as dual coding, explicit instruction and knowledge organisers) or providing quality feedback and metacognition skills.

Schools will be aware of the research from the EEF on effective interventions and will be able to select the most effective strategies from there for their particular cohorts. toolkit/

Where significant gaps have developed it may be appropriate to implement short term programs with small groups of students. Those who were not previously on our SEN radar are likely to catch up quickly with a little bit of extra attention. Those who were on our radar may need slightly longer and may even need to repeat what they had been doing before March 20th. This however, cannot be assumed, and it will be dependent on the ‘schooling’ the child has received whilst at home. In some cases, they may have had more attention than that which has been afforded them in the classroom, or perhaps the relaxation of heavy curriculum laden days has enabled them to securely focus on the basic skills 1:1 with a parent, something we didn’t have time for. However, in the majority of cases they will have been left without support that perhaps they could have accessed from additional adults or their peers and there’s even the possibility that the work they completed at home was done by well intentioned siblings!

Once a school is sure the lower tiers of the hierarchy have been met and they are ready to plug the knowledge gap, then they will need to decide on the best approach. Where those gaps cannot be covered in the classroom and intervention groups are required this must surely follow the principles of not reducing the breadth of curriculum entitlement. The creative and physical aspects of the curriculum are just as important as the traditional ‘academic’ skills.

Many schools will have made good use of technology during the period of closure and this may well be the solution to some of the continuing issues on return. Where students have shown greater engagement and progress with apps and programs, why would we switch back to a solely teacher led delivery? Those students who struggle to put pen on the paper and write a sentence, yet produce a page of coherent text using Word, should be encouraged to develop this further.

Onto what interventions will work? That would be entirely dependent on the school budget and the needs that remain. For lots of children the use of repetition, rehearsal and recap will again help as it did with their self-esteem. Where the knowledge is missing, then it will need to be explicitly taught, remembering that delivery to a class of 30 takes longer than delivery to a group of 6.

I have a concern around the technological divide that will have developed. Many schools are not equipped to provide children with technology lessons frequently. Some children will have spent the period of closure working with a variety of programs and learning how to access website alongside honing their mouse skills. Some will not have had this opportunity, and with this being a fundamental element of the way we work today, it is important that they are not left behind. It is possibly just as important to be able to control a mouse pointer and double left click, as it is to pick up a pencil and write our name.

And from our fine motor skills we move to gross motor skills. Children tend to be a little more active than adults (even if the press reports on the increasing obesity of 5 year olds). Over the period of lockdown many children have not been playing tag , walking any distance to school or chasing each other around the school. They haven’t carried heavy school bags around the corridors for a few weeks and they probably gave up on Joe Wicks after week 2! It doesn’t take long for our bodies to atrophy and our stamina to decrease. Not only will our children be tired when they return as they have to get used to being back in routine again – and getting dressed – but they are likely to be ‘unfit’ too. Again, it will not be all of our children. Some will have participated in daily family walks, others may have spent the period bouncing on a trampoline in the back yard. PE staff and those delivering PE in primary schools will need to be aware and build these skills up gradually. It’s not likely the star footballer will have lost their ability to bend it like Beckham, but some of our less coordinated children may have forgotten how to catch a ball without it smacking them in the face. Bear in mind also the comment made earlier about possible long term effects of the virus on breathing.