Thinking out loud: Absorbing the lockdown gap

As September nears, a big question facing my school is ‘How are we going reset the curriculum and close gaps?

This is certainly a question that is becoming increasingly difficult to answer as the lockdown continues. At the start, I thought that we would be back in school early June resulting in some, but manageable gaps; that has not been the case.

Regardless of good intentions, for us, home learning, has not stemmed the growing gap in the curriculum. The reasons are multi-facet and I would find it unfair to lay blame to pupils, parents or teachers. Even though the lockdown is a shared experience amongst us all, we each have experienced it differently – mental health, furloughed or not, access to technology, bereavement in the family or community, or anxiety and stress.

This has resulted in three types of learning gaps:

  1. No knowledge gap (even exceeding)
  2. A mixed knowledge gap
  3. Or a full knowledge gap

And all three gaps can be present in the same lesson!

On the surface, it looks no different from a normal day in school but the lockdown has magnified the gap. In particular, the attainment gap for key groups has significantly widen. According to a recent EEF report (2020) the attainment gap between non-disadvantage and disadvantage may increase by 36%

The difficulty, however, is having a true understanding of the gap in September; unless, of course, your school stopped the curriculum and set revision lessons during lockdown. Still, in either case, a gap exists that needs to be closed but not closed immediately.

I’m wary starting the school year with any form of testing. Although summative assessments and formative assessment will surely play an important role in closing the gap, using them too early may lead to very complex data. Also, let’s not forget the investment in time, resources and energy to produce spreadsheets and intervention schedules that could be directed towards more low intensity, high impact strategies.

Is there another way?

We can reset the curriculum.

My issue with this is, is that resetting something suggests starting it over from the beginning; from the point of lockdown. Unfortunately, I think this only pushes the problem to a later point or, to make it fit, tough decisions will have to be taken on what to cut.

More so, it sends the wrong message to pupils and parents that the past three months didn’t really matter.


In my opinion, we don’t reset the curriculum but plan to start September as normal.

I’m not advocating that we ignore or even write off the lockdown curriculum; instead, the focus will be on how subjects can ‘fold it in’ [“it” being the lockdown curriculum] so that overtime the learning gap is absorbed by the curriculum.

The concept is not new.

It comes from a planning tactic called ‘fold it in’ in Shaun Allison and Andy Tharby’s book Making every lesson count. From my understanding, the principle of ‘fold it in’ is about looking for ways to create space in the curriculum for deliberate practice by folding knowledge and skills into more advanced opportunities.

Of course, I may be stretching the principle a bit, but I think that ‘fold it in’ can be applicable to bigger pieces of knowledge such as key concepts that can be folded in and redistributed at different points across the curriculum. Therefore, instead of spending valuable time trying to front load the curriculum with gap analysis and intervention and exhausting everyone involved, we absorb the gap overtime.

How can we ‘fold it in’?

To start, teachers need to have a solid understanding of their curriculum maps, especially their rationale for its sequence.

This is because each of the following tactics share a common thread – identifying what the ‘critical knowledge’ is that must be absorbed.

So what is critical knowledge?

To help, Allison and Tharby (2015) pose a simple but thought provoking question when deciding critical knowledge.

  1. What ideas and concepts are absolutely crucial to the overall mastery of the topic?

This is not an easy question to answer, particularly because the entire curriculum is important!

But stripping the ‘content’ down to identify the key components necessary to support the mastery of the idea or concept gives us flexibility to space out, interleave and develop them at different points in the curriculum.

Ultimately, allowing us to absorb the gap across the curriculum.

I don’t think that there is a magic solution to ‘fold it in’ but I think the following three tactics can work interchangeable across all subjects to give us a good start. (It’s pretty much what we already do but now magnified!)

Pause lessons (@chris_runeckles)

A pause lesson is dotting out opportunities across the curriculum to stop – pause – and reteach a section of work covered during lockdown.

This is not about parachuting lockdown learning in; it’s about identifying critical knowledge and giving pause in the curriculum to reengage pupils with the material.  At first, it may look random but the concept is underpinned by evidence based practice – the spacing effect and interleaving. This is why stopping the in middle of a geography unit on rivers to revisit deserts does not impact the progress of pupil learning – in fact it helps them remember and know more.

Ebbinghaus et al. have shown that forgetting can actually help learning. When we revisit learning at spaced periods in makes us think hard. The process can support memory retrieval and retention, even if the pause lesson is interleaved between unconnected topics.

Pause lessons, therefore, address all three types of gaps. Pupils will either benefit from the retrieval element to improve memory retention or in engage in the critical knowledge for the first time.

Layering (@lreducator)

Layering is identifying topics with a direct inter-dependency of each other and adapting subsequent lessons or units to include critical knowledge from lockdown necessary for pupils to progress with new learning.

In short, pupils need to know A to understand B.

For instance, layering is particular relevant in science. In order for pupils to build a successful schema for year 8 physics on the cost of energy, pupils must have knowledge of energy types, transfer and conversation studied in year 7.

By mapping out these relationships, teachers of science can consider layering key components from lockdown to their year 8 counterpart.

All subjects, in particular science, simply do not have the curriculum space to block off September to cover big sections of the lockdown content, but layering can help make the situation more manageable.

Twinning (@ahalledu)

Similar to layering, twinning is focused how lockdown and post-lockdown topics connect but it’s the nature of the relationship that separates the two.

Whereas layering is about direct link between topics, twinning is centred on key concepts, therefore, is more promiscuous with other topics. Unlike layering, you don’t need A to understand B. Instead, A can enhance the understanding of B or move on to support C or decide to two-time B and C. 

For instance, during lockdown year 7 history were given work on ‘life in medieval Britain’. The content is surely important but it is the key concept religion that is crucial for pupils to learn – the understanding of religion’s influence and control over the lives of medieval society.

In practice, the key concept religion matches with a year 8 history unit on the reformation. Now, the significance of religion in the lives of medieval people can be used as a supporting example or a source study in the reformation unit.

Twinning, therefore, has the potential to develop or deepen pupils’ understanding of key concepts taught during lockdown without having to overload the curriculum or exhaust pupils with testing at the start of the year.

In Practice

Step 1: Evaluate the lockdown curriculum to identify critical knowledge

What ideas and concepts are absolutely crucial to the overall mastery of the topic?

Step 2: Use your long term curriculum map to identify where Step 1 will be absorbed

Where and how will the ideas and concepts become absorbed? E.g. Pause lesson, layering, twinning

Step 3: Planning and resourcing

Make the necessary tweaks or adaptations.

In conclusion

I believe that by ‘folding it in’ we can be more effective in absorbing the gap and, more importantly, deliver a coherent and sequenced curriculum to help pupils learn and know more.

I welcome any challenge and feedback.

At the end of the day I’m aware that there is not a perfect solution but I hope we can get close to one.


Allison, S & Tharby A. (2015). Making every lesson count. Bancyfelin, Wales: Crown House Publishing

Education Endownment Fund. (2020). Rapid evidence assessment: Impact of school closures on the attainment gap.

Runeckles, C. (2020). Pause…..continue. Class teaching: Find the bright spots.