Home Class Tech How to help students catch up from the Covid slump

How to help students catch up from the Covid slump


How to help students catch up from the Covid slump

When Federal, State and Territory Governments around Australia ordered the shutdown of schools during the Covid-19 pandemic, this unprecedented event impacted the social and educational development of millions of children across Australia.

In June 2020, mere months after the lockdowns took effect, a Grattan Institute report said an investment of $1bn in school tutoring could allow students to catch-up from lost learning after the COVID-19 lockdowns.

Nearly four years on, the aftershocks of the Covid lockdowns are still being felt, affecting truancy rates, school refusal, student discipline and distraction in the classroom.

According to tutoring company Kip McGrath, enrolled students were on average 1-2 years behind at school before the pandemic, but since the return to face-to-face learning, the average maths and literacy skills of children are 2-3 years behind.

With over twelve years of dedicated service in the education sector, Waverley College’s Head of Wellbeing, James Horrocks has come to know what works and what doesn’t when it comes to keeping kids engaged in the classroom.

Indeed, this also comes from Horrocks’ diverse expertise, which spans pastoral care, leadership, strategic planning, student wellness, and positive education – skills that allow him to help students create authentic, sustainable pathways.

The lingering impact of a once-in-100-years pandemic

Drawing both from his own experience and the available data, Horrocks says the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic continues to impact young people across Australia in many ways.

One of these, says Horrocks, was the marked impact of the lockdowns on students’ sense of belonging and engagement.

“The lockdowns led to an increase in students feeling isolated from their peers and broader community,” Horrocks told The Educator.

“This issue was felt across the education system. Students who lack a sense of belonging struggle to engage authentically in their academic pursuits and learning across all subjects.”

Horrocks also noted the impact that the lockdowns and remote learning had on young peoples’ social and emotional learning (SEL).  

“Remote learning led to a loss in opportunities for students to develop their social and emotional skills through their regular interactions with peers both inside and outside of the normal classroom,” he said.

“As a result, upon the return to school, some students struggled in their self-regulation, focus, and interactions with their peers. To address this schools are working hard to deliver explicit SEL skills to their students.” 

As schools shut down for Covid, students also lost opportunities to lead and develop their skills in working with each other towards larger initiatives, Horrocks said.

“This particularly impacted students at key transition points such as Kindergarten, Year 6, Year 7 and Year 12,” he said.

“Students missed opportunities to collaborate naturally with each other, problem solve, resolve conflict and take up both informal and formal leadership opportunities. To make up for this, schools have been focusing on creating more opportunities for students within these spaces.” 

How Waverley is helping students bounce back

Responding to the need to reestablish students’ sense of belonging, Waverley made this a key focus of its wellbeing program during the lockdowns, and has maintained this focus in the years since to ensure none of its students slip through the cracks. 

“During remote learning virtual opportunities to connect and maintain community ties were prioritised with regular virtual health and wellbeing events scheduled for staff, students and families,” Horrocks said.

“Since the lockdowns belonging and engagement have been focal points of Waverley’s new wellbeing programs such as CCC [Culture, Connection, Communication] Time.”

This 15-minute period, held daily, is a semi-structured Homeroom environment where students go each day to connect with the members of their mentor group and their staff mentor, helping build a sense of community and belonging for all students.

To strengthen students’ social and emotional skills, Waverley has introduced a new Pastoral Care lesson called Kanyini, where lessons are delivered by the college’s Heads of House to Years 7, 8 and 9 students once a fortnight. The lessons focus on vital social emotional skills such as self-awareness, relationship building, stress management and emotional literacy. 

“It is differentiated for each year level to ensure age-appropriateness and contains direct links to the context of Waverley College and the needs of its students,” Horrocks said, adding that the College’s CCC Mentor group program also provides opportunities for students to connect with each other on a more meaningful level during their school experience.

“It also provides opportunities for informal student leadership, in which Year 10, 11 and 12 students are tasked with taking ownership of delivering one Social Emotional Learning activity per week on ‘Waves Wednesday’,” Horrocks noted.

“Within the classroom, Waverley’s focus on ‘Deep Learning’ works to embed collaboration, communication and citizenship as just some of the key skills that are taught and delivered through the existing curriculum in all subject areas.”

Advice for teachers and leading moving forward

Looking ahead, Horrocks highlighted some important considerations for educators and parents who are trying hard to help young people overcome the Covid slump and achieve their very best at school.

“One of these considerations is working in partnership with the school. Students achieve their best when faced with clear and consistent expectations,” Horrocks said.

“The partnership between home and school is so important in this and students respond when they can see that everyone is on the same page with their expectations around learning, routine and behaviour.”

Horrocks said this also extends to students who may be on their own unique journey and facing challenges either inside or outside of school.

“Keeping clear and open communication between home, school and any other external supports allows everyone to work together to achieve the best outcomes for each student,” he said.

Horrocks also pointed to the importance of creating authentic learning environments for young people, as studies show many can feel disillusioned with their schooling experience.

“We all learn and engage on a much deeper level when the ‘why’ is made clear. This is the same for adults as it is for students,” he said.

“The more we can create authentic learning experiences for students that connect to their lived experience, the greater their buy-in will naturally be and the better their behaviour and engagement will be.”

Horrocks said this has been a big focus of the Kanyini Pastoral Care Lessons and Deep Learning approach within Waverley college.

‘Make your school a place where students want to be’

Horrocks said building positive and consistent routines helps students know what to expect when they walk through the school gates in the morning. 

“Having consistent routines in how lessons operate and how each day is structured can make a significant difference in alleviating anxiety and school refusal. Having these routines based around positive language and emotions can further enhance this,” he said.

“For example, Waverley’s learning routine for each lesson focuses on the idea of ‘Start Strong, Strong Focus, Finish Strong’.”

Horrocks said the CCC Mentor time is also based around a consistent, weekly routine.

“The same goes for when students are at home. Consistent routines around sleep and wake times, homework and meals can support students dealing with anxiety,” he said.

“If these routines fail at times, a focus on the positives and what has been achieved, rather than what has not been achieved can help encourage students to persist and try again.”

Horrocks re-emphasised the importance of schools focusing on relationships and belonging post-Covid.

“Getting to know students and then acknowledging their strengths goes a long way to making students feel seen and building a sense of belonging and connection to their school,” he said.

“When students feel this, school is a place they want to be and a community they want to contribute to.”

Horrocks said this is something that is “at the heart of wellbeing at Waverley College”.

“The wellbeing team prioritises ensuring that the school is a safe and supportive community, where all individuals are known, valued and challenged, allowing them to reach their full potential.”

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