IntoUniversity’s approach to Learning Recovery

This coming academic year will be crucial in the lives of young people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, as they strive to recover from the severe impacts of the shutdown. IntoUniversity has an effective response to support students and schools to help bridge the gap of lost learning.

To coordinate this work across the charity, we have appointed a new Head of Learning Recovery for the 2020/21 academic year, Eilis O’Donnell.

Can you give us a bit of background about your experience?
‘I trained as an English and Psychology teacher with Teach First in 2010 and was placed in an Academy in Walthamstow. I had spent some time working in marketing and charity fundraising but I wanted to be part of improving outcomes for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

I became the Assistant Learning Manager for the Sixth Form which meant I was a part of student decision-making and encouraging them to think about their futures. All of our students applied for university and there was no shortage of drive and aspiration, however some students would have benefitted from earlier guidance. Once in sixth form they learned they had already made decisions which closed off certain pathways to them.

In 2015, I found IntoUniversity and it was a perfect fit. The role combined the passion and knowledge I had from all of my previous experience.’

Why do you think that Learning Recovery is needed for our students?
‘There are a whole host of factors. Our students are more likely to lack access to computers and devices, live in overcrowded housing conditions, to be socially isolated and to have had less contact with teachers during lockdown. I have friends who are still teaching. Those in independent schools are teaching lessons online every day and even providing extra support. This contrasts to others in state schools who have estimated that up to 70% of students haven’t engaged with the learning set. These anecdotes support the research. I was really struck by the Machin/Elliot Major report’s [COVID-19 and Social Mobility, 2020] estimate of four to six months of learning loss for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Given we were starting from a point of a widening attainment gap, this will have huge and lasting implications.

It is also a very daunting time both for students and their parents, who have also never experienced a time like this before. Navigating the issues around welfare that come out of this uncertainty will be just as important as helping students to catch up academically. The wider implications of an economic downturn will affect our students and families the most. That’s why our focus now has to shift beyond the lockdown and into supporting families with the after-effects of this pandemic.’

Why is IntoUniversity well-placed to provide this support with Learning Recovery?
‘We’re already there in the community, and have over 15 years’ experience, providing the support that is needed. Our approach has always been long term and hyper local; we are embedded in local communities and adapt to specific local circumstances which, when you consider the local Leicester lockdown, is all the more important. We will be able to respond in a way which I think other national charities may not. In each community, we also have long-standing relationships with schools, families, universities, and businesses, and can act as a connector bringing together all of these elements to provide the best support for students dealing with current and future challenges. We specialise in providing long-term, pastoral and academic support, and maintaining relationships with our students and families, so will be able to identify gaps in learning and offer tailored support quickly.’

While specific plans are still being developed, what do you expect will be focused on during the Learning Recovery programme?
‘We will be focusing on how to tailor our programmes and approaches to best serve our young people. In the short term, that means working closely with schools to understand their needs, any changes that are ahead, and what the most important support is that we can provide to them.

We must adapt our support based on student needs, whether they are transitioning to Secondary school, studying for GCSEs or in sixth form, making decisions in this ‘new normal’. This time will have affected young people and their families so differently. For the students we work closely with at Academic Support, we will be using our links with experienced volunteers and universities to offer targeted support to make up for lost learning. Some students may need help with socialisation if they have been isolated, so would be offered mentoring. Maintaining up-to-date knowledge of the HE sector is also going to be so important; things can change so rapidly and we need to make sure we give the best advice to our young people.

We’ll also continue to use the most effective innovations we have developed and adopted in lockdown. During this adversity, our delivery team have achieved great things and I’m looking forward to shaping our response to get the best results we can for our young people.’



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A national education charity based in the UK, providing local learning centres where young people are inspired to achieve.