Earlier in July we hosted a Designing an Effective Catch Up Curriculum webinar. Our aim was to cut through any uncertainty surrounding catch up, and to share ideas, strategies and advice on meaningful recovery planning. We explored sensible approaches to supporting effective catch up and discussed how we can ensure all children’s needs are met.

The event was hosted by Helen Woodward (former DfE Head of School Improvement), and we were lucky enough to be joined by a special guest panel:

Janet Carroll (Senior Curriculum Advisor at Cornerstones Education & former Deputy Headteacher and Literacy Lead in South London)

Mike Tonge (CEO for Prestolee Multi Academy Trust and member of the executive steering group for the Greater Manchester Learning Partnership)

Alex Keane (Head of School at Prestolee Primary School and Curriculum Lead for Prestolee Trust)

Here is our summary of some of the great insights shared on the day!


The new education inspection framework: how should we be doing things differently?

”What matters is that you do not narrow the curriculum, you're clear on the challenges that you face, you're clear on your endpoints, and you're clear on what progression and accelerated progression looks like”

Mike Tonge

The education inspection framework has undergone some changes for 2021. How should we change our approach to catch up as a result of these changes? Mike began this point with an analogy:

“Imagine that you’re travelling from Manchester to Birmingham – let’s say it’s at night, so there’s no other traffic on the road – and you travel at 60 miles an hour. If you set off at the same time, you’ll more or less arrive at the same time. You’ve been parked at the service station between Manchester and Birmingham for about 18 months now, and the question is ‘how do we make sure that we actually arrive in Birmingham at the same time?’ (…) What is it your intelligent curriculum design says you should be doing? What would be success for you?”

He went on to advise in detail against building a catch up curriculum solely around Maths and English:

“What you absolutely mustn’t do is start building your curriculum around an accountability framework that’s focused entirely on Maths and English, because there’s a whole series of skills development that you need to concentrate on. And that is a full, wide curriculum offer (…) based on your thorough analysis of how children come back, you should be thinking very carefully about what are the hard skills that we need to learn, ie. filling the gaps in maths in English in SPaG (spelling, punctuation and grammar), sentence structure and so on (…) Making sure that a rich curriculum offer is focused on the things that we need to do.”

The flexibility of available funds means that schools can apply them to the areas that are best suited to their pupils’ needs, which will naturally vary between schools, year groups and other factors:

“So if you’re looking at History or Geography, what are the things that are most important to you as a school? So it’s really important to walk into an inspection, confident that you’ve thought through that really carefully, and that you as a school have defined your end points, given your starting points, and it’s been thought through really clearly, and you’ve got a very clear progression map. That might look differently for Early Years to Year 2, Year 3, Year 4, Year 5, Year 6 going into transition. But what matters is that you do not narrow the curriculum, you’re clear on the challenges that you face, you’re clear on your endpoints, and you’re clear on what progression and accelerated progression looks like and what you’re doing to add value to that. Maybe tutoring, maybe a digital strategy, maybe additional time outside of the school day. But you must be clear on it, and you must be confident in expressing it.”


Using assessment to ensure we’re building on existing knowledge

“Misconceptions are key when it comes to assessment, especially with the perhaps linear approach that teachers took to providing live lessons and disseminating knowledge”

Alex Keane

How important is assessment for ensuring we understand individual needs? Alex began her answer to this question by explaining that school staff should not be presumptuous:

“There’s been a range of experiences out there which children have faced, I think we can sometimes presume what we think they will or will not know – assessment is key. Knowing those starting points when children returned from the pandemic, I know every leader and every teacher would have been trying to identify what would have been learned from the remote education that was provided. But the range of engagement within that made it quite difficult to assume what children had or hadn’t learned. There was that balance between giving lots of summative assessments, lots of tests as soon as children were returning was also not the right approach, considering everything the children have been through.”

For Alex, multiple choice, low-stake assessments are a great way to begin this process:

“We need to think about a sustainable approach to assessment. (…) There’s lots of talk about using low-stakes assessments, whether it be through multiple choice questions, which provide variations of answers that you can identify the meaning of, but also that allow the teachers to address misconceptions. Misconceptions are key when it comes to assessment, especially with the perhaps linear approach that teachers took to providing live lessons and disseminating knowledge in that way of ‘I’m telling you this knowledge and imparting it’, whereas in the classroom, we can ask questions more. So it’s interactive, we can pick up on misconceptions. And I think that the multiple choice, low-stakes assessments at the beginning of lessons across the curriculum will help to establish that starting point, and be able to identify those misconceptions so then you can plan effectively.”

Ultimately, catch up should revolve around activating prior knowledge, Alex continued:

“We’ve got to make the data work for us. So it’s got to be something that you can feed back into your planning. And it’s got to be that we use assessment to probe learning and find out what children know, not how they perform. So learning is about what has actually been taught, what’s been learned, how do they know it, and what’s next? Rather than this level of performance. Summative assessments give you that data that tell you a point in time, the performance of that child, and actually, they don’t always perform well during an assessment. But it doesn’t mean that they don’t know the learning, especially if we probe it. And I think that we’ve got to activate that prior knowledge.”


How can we plan to meet the needs of the most disadvantaged pupils?

“We went for a curriculum approach for high expectations, because we wanted to raise aspirations”

Janet Carroll

Janet explained that pupil disadvantage is far more complicated and pervasive than being labelled as ‘pupil premium’:

“I think when we talk about identifying disadvantaged, it’s often that label of ‘PP’, pupil premium. But in my school, most of the time, there were somewhere between 48% and 55%, children officially identified as PP, so a very socioeconomically disadvantaged area. And we recognised, my Head and I, that we needed to look at another sort of disadvantage. We recognised our children had more than just that label of PP that gave them a disadvantage in learning, we knew there were barriers to their learning. So we started to look at the different kinds of disadvantages they were facing.”

These disadvantages can be varied and wide-ranging, Janet went on:

“We had parents in prison, we had parents with domestic violence issues, children in and out of child in need plans, and sometimes on the verge. Those turn on the cusp of those social structures where they’ve not quite got the support they need, but we knew that was affecting their day to day ability to learn. And you had children who were carers for those who had disabled siblings at home. So we started to look at that bigger lens of disadvantage, and it made us consider how that affected their ability to learn. And another example – I know, we’ve mentioned parents a lot – about 70% of our parents didn’t have any kind of qualifications at all. So for them their education experience brings them to school with a different kind of mindset, potentially, in terms of supporting what school does.”

Janet explained that in an attempt to mitigate the effects of pupil disadvantage for catch up, she drew on her own experiences of aspiration as a pupil herself, as well as encouraging more learning-positive language in the classroom:

“I went to a local Grammar School and that opened my eyes to a whole different world; my new friends, their older brothers and sisters were going to university – what was that?! – they were travelling the world! So for me, opening my eyes to potential aspirational things that I had not experienced before, made me consider how school could help me and my parents were very supportive. We went for a curriculum approach for high expectations, because we wanted to raise aspirations. So expecting them to do well regardless of their disadvantage, and therefore opening their eyes to possibilities of where they could go. We then focussed very much on learning behaviours, and the language of learning, so the children were using the term ‘my learning’; ‘you’re interrupting my learning’ – the kind of language that helps everyone focus on why school is happening, why we come to school every day.”


This webinar was hosted in partnership with Cornerstones Education. Cornerstones is an online platform that helps primary schools to build bespoke curriculums, monitor subject progression, and much more.

We’d like to thank Alex, Mike and Janet for taking part in this webinar. You can watch the hour long webinar in full below.