Catching up from COVID: Should prep students repeat a year?

Catching up from COVID: Should prep students repeat a year?

This week, one of Victoria’s most experienced primary school principals said many prep students would be better off repeating their foundation year next year to avoid falling behind permanently from months of lost classroom learning.

Dandenong North Primary School principal Kevin Mackay, recently told The Age that that the COVID-19 pandemic had cost his students about half a year of essential development in literacy, numeracy and oral language.

This comes as a new UK survey this week found that most pupils will be three months behind in their studies when they return to schools in England.

The poll of nearly 3,000 school leaders and teachers found 98% said students had not made as much progress in their learning as would normally be expected.

In Australia, the suggestion that most prep students would be better off repeating has prompted a mixed response from within the teaching profession.

Berwick Lodge Primary School principal, who has more than 50 years of teaching experience, says schools should not be considering having more Prep children than usual repeating their foundation year in 2021 for several reasons.

“Firstly, our current approach teaching and learning practice embraces the principles of personalised learning – that meaning children in non-streamed classes are at a variety of levels of academic progress and teachers provide a differentiated curriculum to cater for those differences,” Grossek told The Educator.

“Secondly, the importance of social connection with peers is very important for children”.

Grossek said that removing students from their classmates by having them repeat Prep next year won't be doing them much good socially and emotionally.

“In saying this, it is worth mentioning that for all its limitations, 2020 has certainly not been a completely lost year educationally for children and that learning is not linear - this year especially so for everyone”.

In a statement provided to The Educator, a spokeswoman for the Victorian Education Department said that it is not expecting to see an increase in the number of prep students repeating in 2021.

“Our teachers and schools are doing an outstanding job identifying students who may need additional support and put in place targeted learning strategies for those who need it,” the spokeswoman said.

“Teachers are working with their school improvement staff, such as Learning Specialists, Literacy and Numeracy Leaders and Improvement Teachers, to determine the strategies most appropriate for individual students”.

Ian Anderson, president of the WA Primary Principals Association, agrees that schools are already well equipped to support the diverse learning needs of children during this time.

“We need to remember that all children are different, even those of a similar age and no matter what experiences they have during the remote learning period, they will still return with some skills and abilities that form the basis for further learning,” Anderson told The Educator.

“Assessments upon school return will be crucial to establish learning gains and gaps that will allow the school to provide a learning environment that is adapted and responsive to children’s individual learning needs”.

Anderson said society must also acknowledge parents as a child’s first teacher and should not underestimate what they do.

The Victorian Education Department is currently considering new ways to support students who have not made as much learning progress as others during the pandemic and will provide schools with advice about the most effective interventions that will support them to catch up.