Identifying and addressing the gaps

Wherever you are, and whatever type of international school you’re in, it’s a fact that all students have had their learning affected by the school closures brought about by the global pandemic this year. It’s also true that all teaching professionals want to identify gaps...


Wherever you are, and whatever type of international school you’re in, it’s a fact that all students have had their learning affected by the school closures brought about by the global pandemic this year. It’s also true that all teaching professionals want to identify gaps in learners’ skills and knowledge, yet identifying those gaps and deciding if they are important or not isn’t always straightforward.

However, whichever curriculum you follow or published materials you use, there are some steps you can take to identify the initial gaps in your students’ learning:

Look at your curriculum

What are the objectives for your year group or key stage? What are the expectations from the previous year? A curriculum is also useful to track against (tip: use a highlighter!). If you have a curriculum or progression map with year-by-year age related expectations, use it! Identify where each learner is coming from in terms of prior attainment, where they should be now, and – importantly – where they are heading.

Look at lesson planning – and map this to the curriculum

Examine your lesson planning from earlier in the year. If during a period of school closure this year, your students were scheduled to study inference in English, or quadratic equations in maths, but no live learning took place, these are likely now to be weak areas for some or all of your students.

Look at test results – before, during and since your school closed

Look at test results from before, during and since your school closure – including the results from previous year groups. If a student went into the pandemic finding a topic or skill tricky, they’re unlikely to have made up those existing gaps. Of course, in this respect, any test results are far more useful if they’ve been tracked against actual objectives: a ‘raw’ number does not necessarily tell you exactly what and where the gaps are.

Look at ongoing tracking and assessments from previous year(s)

Your school might have ongoing tracking that follows a child from year to year. This could be online or offline, complex or simple. If your school doesn’t already have something set up, this is your opportunity to get something in place. Print out your curriculum or progression document and highlight what each of your learners can already definitely do. Then, as you test and teach, highlight and date the tracking document to indicate when you’re confident each student has mastered something.

Use formative assessment

You don’t have to formally test a student to know they can do something. Quizzes, questionnaires – or simple conversations contribute to your picture of what they can and cannot do. If a learner retells familiar stories in class, or repeatedly answers questions during whole class teaching – that tells you as a professional which skills they’ve mastered and means you can focus teaching on other areas – areas where they are gaps.

Large baseline tests are an option

The idea of a large baseline test at the start of the year is an attractive one – surely if the student sits a test on last year’s content, or this year’s content to date – that will tell you what they do and don’t know? This is an attractive idea of course, but it does present difficulties:

  1. Large summative tests select a (relatively) randomised selection of content. As a diagnostic tool they’re limited by this. If you create a test covering everything, that’s a very long test!
  2. If you do this are you actually testing their ability to concentrate on a four hour test? Or their ability to answer exam style questions?

What matters?

Ultimately you, as teaching professionals, have to decide what is or isn’t the most important.


If you’re confident a student has mastered inference and can show you this, does it matter that they missed the chance to do this last term in a very specific context? No.

We often hang skills off knowledge – because that’s the easiest way to teach them. The knowledge itself is not always the most important thing.


Not knowledge for its own sake. But sometimes you do need to know something to enable you to access new learning. For instance, if I want to be able to multiply and divide effectively by 10, 100, or 1000, I need an understanding of place value.

Moving on

The important thing is to move students on – but we need to do so without ignoring fundamental gaps. Use your professionalism and common sense to look ahead and identify the key skills and knowledge your students are going to need and work with colleagues within your school to identify these.

Filling the gap

If you’re sure you’ve found a gap – and it’s an important one – you’re probably going to want to teach that missing skill or piece of knowledge. Here, there’s normally two options:

1. Focused intervention

  • If an individual student or a small group of students needs support
  • Short sessions, focused on a specific objective
  • Check understanding throughout – and at the end – through targeted questioning

2. Whole class teaching

  • If the whole class has similar needs or gaps
  • Takes more time – but covers more learners!

Either way you may be looking for support in teaching those gaps. As a first step, look at plans where those gaps were covered – from the current year or a previous year:

  • Look at the scheme of work – which unit or week was that ‘gap’ covered in?
  • Look at the individual lesson plan – use it for ideas, or to teach the whole class
  • You may need to use an individual lesson – or a sequence
  • Always come back and check understanding again

Finding a whole school approach

Don’t do this alone. Agree an approach as a whole school to identifying the gaps in your students’ learning – and addressing them – as a team. Colleagues are invaluable in making decisions and in assessing students. They can be colleagues teaching the same subject, the same age group, or simply fellow teachers in the school.

Also, make sure to talk to senior leaders within your school and get them on board with what you’re doing. Explain what you’re doing – and why – and enlist their support. Massive baseline tests and formal assessments are, as mentioned, fraught with problems as diagnostic tools but they can look like the right thing to do from the outside.

Whatever you do – do it together and support each other – and your students. Explain to them, if needed, that you’re simply trying to help them understand and do as well as they can in the future.

Further reading

Read this article on helping your learners transition to GCSE, A level or IB courses.

Watch this webinar on identifying the gaps in skills and knowledge your primary and secondary learners may have and pick up some practical suggestions for addressing them.

For resources to help you identify and address gaps in your students’ learning, take a look at Power Starters.


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