How to prevent long-term damage to your child’s future because of extended school closures

On Sunday 7th June, The Sunday Times had a front-page story about how education, particularly for secondary students, would continue to be disrupted because of the Coronavirus pandemic.

The key points made were:

  • The summer exams in 2021 are likely to be disrupted. Two options being considered are postponing exams until July to give students the opportunity to catch-up on the learning time lost this year or continuing with the emergency marking system being used by teachers in summer 2020 – where teachers are recommending student grades for each subject to exam boards.
  • Some schools are unlikely to fully reopen until January 2021 because of the challenges of social distancing.

If you click on the Tweet above, you can then click on the picture of the front page and scroll down to find the article.

Before you start to panic, I want to use this opportunity to talk through what this means for you and your child, and how you can take control of your own situation to get the best possible outcomes.

How to plan for an uncertain educational future

Recognise the things you can control and the things you can't control

There are very many things in the pandemic situation that we can't control. We can't:

  • Do anything, except maintain social distancing and hygiene practices, to get rid of the virus
  • Make decisions about school opening and how to do this safely
  • Determine how exams are going to work and what measures are going to be put in place to make up for lost teaching time

However, there are things we can control:

  • Do the work set by schools remotely to the very best of our ability, making sure everything is attempted
  • Take personal responsibility for progress
  • Commit to learning to study independently
  • Revisit personal reasons for doing the work – why does each student want to succeed?
  • Setting up and maintaining healthy study routines to the greatest extent possible
  • Get extra help where needed

Let's talk through each of these in more detail.

1. Do the work to the best of your ability

One thing I saw early on in lockdown was students almost throwing their hands up in despair, pushing back against the idea of working at home without their teachers in an act of resistance, and letting themselves get behind.

However, I've seen that change in recent weeks.

While schools have been off, I've been holding a daily accountability call at 9 am for members of The Extraordinaries Club. We plan our days and then have a 25 minute focused study session.

Last Friday, I asked each student to share with the group what had gone well for them with their studies in the last five days. Two students said promising things about taking responsibility for their work and doing it to the best of their ability:

  • One student said she'd been putting a huge effort in to catch up with the maths that she'd fallen behind on, with the help of a maths tutor.
  • Another, who had been incredibly resistant to the whole idea of working at home and every time I spoke to her said that she just wanted to go back to school so she could be with her teachers said that she was stepping up and taking charge of her work, finally, rather than continuing her resistance to the status quo.

If students are going to get decent grades in their exams next year, whether they have to sit formal exams or they are given teacher assessed grades again, they are going to have to do the work. With teacher assessed grades, teachers will need to see evidence of the standard that they've reached. And, with exams – although the content of them may be altered to account for the time lost – there will still be a certain standard of writing and understanding needed for the topic areas students are asked about.

The sooner students understand that they are going to have to work in a different way from usual, and just get on with it, the fairer they will be to themselves.

2. Take personal responsibility for your progress

Taking responsibility is closely tied up with the idea of doing the work to the best of your ability. But, for many students, particularly year 10s who've just let their secondary education drift by without really caring or putting in any effort, this is a massive shift.

But, this is what I've seen beginning to happen – the girl I mentioned in the previous section being an example.

This year, with teachers looking to mocks and assessed pieces of work throughout year 11 up until schools closed to give grades, many students have been caught out for leaving everything until too late.

The students taking their exams in 2021 will have no excuses about this – they know it's a distinct possibility that they'll be awarded grades based on the work they've done as they've gone along, so they need to change their way of approaching their work to recognise this.

Now, that's easy for me to say and much harder for students to do. But, I am seeing students in The Extraordinaries Club make this shift in their mindset. If you feel that your child needs kind and constructive support to make the same shift, check out the club here, or our 1:1 coaching options.

3. Commit to studying independently

There really is no effective way to get through this challenging educational time without committing to learning independently.

That's why, between Easter and May half-term this year (2020), I ran a specially adapted course that taught students to study independently in the Corona Crisis. It's a five-week course that covers:

  1. Mindset and motivation
  2. Routines and organisation
  3. Dealing with distractions, procrastination and improving focus
  4. How to plan and do effective revision
  5. How to widen and deepen your knowledge

The course is delivered through daily emails, or you can work through it in The Extraordinaries Club. The students I mentioned above have both done this course.

4. Revisit the personal reasons for doing the work

One of the things that has clearly come across to me over the last few weeks is the attitude that some students hold that they're doing the work for their teachers, and without seeing their teachers every day there is no point in doing it.

This couldn't be further from the truth.

Teachers are there to facilitate each person's education. The normal structures of school provide accountability for students to get their work done – but this can give the impression that students are doing the work for their teachers.

If students are going to excel during this difficult period, they need to get this idea out of their heads. Instead, they need to tune into their own personal reasons for doing well – what are the goals, life and career that they want their education to unlock for them?

It's only when they understand this that they will really embrace the ideas of independent learning and taking personal responsibility for the work that they do.

This is why motivation is always one of the very first things I address with students – in the How to Learn Independently Course, in the normal materials in The Extraordinaries Club, with 1:1 clients and in my book, The Ten Step Guide to Acing Every Exam You Ever Take.

5. Healthy study routines

School life enforces a routine on all students. This routine generally includes:

  • Time outside walking – to get to school and moving around the school
  • Mini-breaks between lessons to get from one classroom to another
  • Proper breaks in the morning and at lunchtime

Things that are also dictated by the school day also include:

  • What time you get up in the morning, so that you can get to school on time
  • What time you go to bed at night, so you get enough sleep and can get up on time
  • When family meals are

Without school enforcing these markers in your day, it's very easy to let the day drift away without any real structure or routine.

However, it's really important both in terms of getting things done and for mental health to have some structure to your time.

The perfect structure rarely emerges straight away. I've found that with my own family – in the first couple of weeks of lockdown we were experimenting with what worked. It was only after the Easter holiday that we fell into a routine that really worked.

I've helped my clients in The Extraordinaries Club develop routines by:

  1. Helping them to think through and plan something that might work
  2. Having the 9 am accountability call, to give an anchor point in their day so they've got something to structure their time around
  3. Helping students think through how to tweak and adapt their routines on the weekly coaching calls until they've come up with something that really works

Having structure and routine around how you spend your time is essential in this time of independent study. I always teach it to my clients, even in normal times, but it's taken on greater importance since schools closed and lockdown began.

6. Get extra help when needed

Several of my clients have said how they've struggled with just the textbook to teach them what they need to know, and no teachers easily accessible to ask questions.

This isn't a struggle unique to lockdown and school closures. I remember struggling to understand things from my own course textbook when I was studying A-Level biology. My solution was to look up the same information in different textbooks – and I nearly always found that when a different author explained a concept in a different way I could then understand the thing I was finding tricky.

There are, of course, other solutions these days. There's the whole internet. There are the How to Revise Masterclasses for GCSE subjects in The Extraordinaries Club. Many families have tutors for one or two tricky subjects.

But the key here is to get resourceful. Just because that one book, or one teacher, doesn't make sense to you it doesn't mean you should give up. Giving up is essentially giving up on yourself.

At some point, students will have to catch-up

While the government and exam boards are wrestling with how to fairly assess students whose education has been disrupted in summer 2021, I think it's important to remember that at some points most students will be required to catch-up on the work that has been missed.

For example, if a student is going on to study a subject like A Level maths, it will be necessary for them to have covered all the GCSE content before they can reasonably attempt the AS or A Level specification. Similarly, if students are going on to university, universities will require a minimum level of knowledge in certain subjects. Most medical degrees require students to have A Level chemistry, so there will be an expectation that they have the knowledge of the whole chemistry syllabus.

Schools, colleges and universities will be having to think of creative ways to make up for the gaps in student knowledge that have been caused by school closures. But, everything each student can do today, and this week and this month, to minimise that gap will be saving themselves hard work and possible disappointment and heart ache in the future.

Over to you

I know this is a really challenging time for everybody. I'm worried about the impact on my own children's education, even though they're still at primary school. But, there are things that every one of us can do to minimise the impact that school closures are having on our young people, if we're willing to step up and take responsibility for our own destinies in the situation that we find ourselves in.

However, I know this is hard. If you feel that your family needs more support with this, join The Extraordinaries Club or book a call to talk about 1:1 academic coaching. You'll be met with calm, expert advice and empathy to help you make the best of the situation we're in.

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