A holistic approach to recovering lost learning

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A holistic approach to recovering lost learning

Author: Isabelle Bridger-Eames, EAL Specialist

Barry and Matthew Carpenter’s ‘Recovery Curriculum’ has many applications for EAL pupils. Their ‘Recovery Curriculum’ was created during the 2021-21 pandemic, over concerns about how learners would cope when back in school. The Carpenters describe how the Recovery Curriculum is built on five levers, “as a systematic, relationships-based approach to reigniting the flame of learning in each child” (Carpenter and Carpenter, 2020). The authors believed that many children would return to school disengaged after the COVID crisis, with attachment issues. Their aim was to re-engage pupils and lead them back to their rightful status as fully engaged, authentic learners.

The five levers

  1. Relationships – building and investing in relationships

  2. Community – understanding and engaging in our community

  3. Transparent curriculum

  4. Metacognition

  5. Space – to be, to rediscover self and to find our voice in learning

(Carpenter and Carpenter, April 2020)

Lost relationships

Worryingly, during this pandemic period, the authors believe that many young people will have had issues around attachment, due to experiencing the loss of school relationships – some of the strongest relationships young people have. Without these strong relationships, pupils will suffer a loss of attachment, which must be rebuilt (Carpenter and Carpenter, 2020).

When thinking about our EAL learners, we must acknowledge that this is an experience that these learners in particular are likely to have when they arrive with us, even when the pandemic becomes a memory. They will have experienced the loss of relationships described above, and will be suffering with issues around attachment. Thus, Carpenter and Carpenter’s ‘Recovery Curriculum’ can be used with our EAL pupils to help and support them upon their arrival with us.

Our EAL pupils come to us with a wide range of experiences and backgrounds. Some have escaped war-torn countries – others have moved from one country to another, multiple times, benefitting from positive experiences. All of our EAL pupils need compassion and care when they arrive with us. 

How are ‘Recovery Curriculum’ levers relevant to our EAL pupils?

Lever 1: Relationships

Relationships need to be built, and invested in. How are we aiding our EAL pupils to build up relationships with staff and peers? Does your EAL pupil have a buddy and a mentor? What do you know about your pupil? Who can you share this information with?

Lever 2: Community

How can we understand our community, give that understanding to our EAL pupils and engage with our local communities to facilitate integration? Do we teach our EAL pupils about our local area and community? If so, how? What about the school community? Are parents with EAL offered some support to engage with the school community? Are expectations clear for our EAL pupils?

Lever 3: Transparent curriculum

How can we identify the gaps that EAL pupils have in their learning quickly and effectively? How can we involve our EAL pupils in their learning and push their learning forward? Many schools have a survival language curriculum in place to cater for new-to-English pupils, as well as EAL-specific baseline assessments, such as a speaking and listening assessment.

Lever 4: Metacognition

Our EAL pupils will come to us with a whole plethora of different learning experiences. Some will have had formal educational experiences, while others will have had none. We must equip them with the tools to learn and show them clearly how to learn in our schools. See our downloadable resource accompanying this article for information on equipping learners with the language of self-assessment.

Lever 5: Space

What could this space look like for our EAL pupils? Could this be timetabled? As human beings, we need the sounding-board of others to discover and rediscover ourselves. Many schools successfully use a buddy system that includes same-language buddies to support pupils academically and socially. 

In conclusion, many of our whole-school thoughts and actions for rebuilding our learning habits and learning communities will have fantastically useful applications for our EAL learners, as described here. We have a duty to ensure that our EAL pupils are ready to learn as fully engaged, authentic learners and to support them on their journey through our school system.


Carpenter, B., and Carpenter, C. (2020) A Recovery Curriculum: Loss and Life for our children and schools post pandemic. Available here.

Scott, C. (2012). Teaching English as an Additional Language 5-11: A Whole School Resource. Abingdon: Routledge.

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