'School's worth of children' helped to catch up on lost learning in Suffolk with innovative scheme

More than 10,000 pupils at Norfolk schools have benefitted from government Covid laptop and tablet scheme.

Remote learning support assistants have helped hundreds of youngsters in Suffolk recover from lost learning during Covid-19 - Credit: PA

Hundreds of school pupils in Suffolk most in need of support to catch up from lost learning during Covid-19 have been given crucial help, thanks to an innovative programme to help families.

Ipswich Opportunity Area - a government-funded programme to boost education attainment in the town - allocated £180,000 to recruiting 15 new teaching assistants (called remote learning support assistants, or RLSAs) back in November, with the express aim of helping pupils who have fallen behind during the Covid-19 crisis.

Figures have now indicated that in the first six weeks of the new term starting in January there were 845 pupils who gained support, from those assistants, and 745 in the second half-term - a "school's worth of children" according to project bosses.

Jacqueline Bircham, programme director with Ipswich Opportunity Area

Jacqueline Bircham, programme director with Ipswich Opportunity Area - Credit: Ipswich Opportunity Area

Schools notified their RLSAs of pupils in their classes struggling the most, and the RLSAs worked either one-to-one or in small groups to help them recover lost ground.

Jacqueline Bircham, programme director for Ipswich Opportunity Area, said it was not just about the teaching but also "breaking down the barriers to learning".

"In the morning, the school doesn’t know if it is going to run as usual or whether there will be a sudden isolation, a teacher has to change, some groups have to switch to remote learning, It is really fluid," she said. 

"For some of those pupils that really struggled they will fall through the gaps. The RLSAs have provided that net those children fall into.

"They did masses of work during lockdown and this period afterwards their role has changed, It is the daily complications and they have prevented the children falling through the net. Latterly, as there are fewer infections and those complications reduce, they are able to give that really targeted support for those children who have got lots and lots of work to do."

Suffolk TA Network logo

The Suffolk TA Network has been formed to provide support and training to teaching assistants - Credit: Suffolk TA Network

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Feedback from schools indicated that the RLSAs had provided greater support capabilities, clarity for pupils and families and identified specific areas where individuals have required attention.

Meanwhile, a TA Network formed at the back end of last year has helped teaching assistants gain additional support, training and peer-mentoring.

Around 250 teaching assistants across Suffolk have joined the network, which has seen focused training sessions laid on in areas such as dyslexia and confidence, and provide a forum in which TAs can support each other and share ideas.

Abi Joachim, Suffolk TA Network co-ordinator, said: "One of the biggest things we found when we first did the initial questions is that TAs struggled to access decent training, but also didn’t get the opportunity to speak to TAs outside their own setting ever, so this network has given them the opportunity.

Suffolk Teaching Assistant Network co-ordinator Abi Joachim

Suffolk Teaching Assistant Network co-ordinator Abi Joachim - Credit: Abi Joachim

"I have had a huge amount of feedback from the TAs in the network - they are saying having training tailored to them that is accessible, has been so valuable."

Some have even reported the network as having "reignited the passion for the job".

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