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How Children were impacted by Lockdowns
And how those impacts are still ongoing
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A number of reports were published today by the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) in the UK. These looked at the continuing effects of the pandemic on children. I will mainly quote their findings because there is no need to comment on how badly children were let down for a disease that barely affected them.
Early years providers
Communication & Language
The pandemic has continued to affect children’s communication and language development, and many providers noticed delays in their speech and language progress.
Many providers reported that there are still delays in babies’ and children’s speech and language development. For example, some have noticed that children have limited vocabulary or lack the confidence to speak. Also, some babies have struggled to respond to basic facial expressions, which may be due to reduced contact and interaction with others during the pandemic.
Babies have been particularly anxious and have needed more reassurance from staff to cope with seeing different faces.
Children have missed out on hearing stories, singing and having conversations. One provider commented that children appear to have spent more time on screens and have started to speak in accents and voices that resemble the material they have watched.
A few providers felt that wearing face masks continued to have a negative impact on children’s communication and language skills. Children turning 2 years old will have been surrounded by adults wearing masks for their whole lives and have therefore been unable to see lip movements or mouth shapes as regularly. Some providers have reported that delays to children’s speech and language development have led to them not socialising with other children as readily as they would have expected previously.
Providers are making more referrals for external help than before the pandemic and are waiting longer for this specialist help.
Many providers reported an increased wait for external services for children needing additional support, such as speech and language therapists. Some providers said parents who could do so had paid for private speech and language therapists to get support immediately. Those who could not afford this have faced longer waiting times, of up to 9 months in some local authorities, before specialist help had become available.
The negative impact on children’s personal, social and emotional development has also continued, with many children lacking confidence in group activities. Some older children, who would not normally have been upset when being dropped off by their parents, were still unsettled after a period of attending settings regularly.
Personal, social and emotional development continues to be affected. Children were lacking confidence and were shy in childcare settings, especially when taking part in group activities. Even older children who would have usually settled were still upset when dropped off. Providers reported that babies were particularly anxious and not used to seeing different faces. Children’s social and friendship-building skills have been affected. Some providers reported that toddlers and pre-school children needed more support with sharing and turn-taking.
Children’s social and friendship-building skills have continued to be affected. Children have had less social interaction, so their social skills are less well developed than they would have been pre-pandemic.
Some providers had noticed that toddlers and pre-school children continued to need more support with sharing and turn-taking. For example, some children were finding it difficult to cooperate in a group and to share toys, and they were unhappy if they did not get their own way.
Children’s knowledge of expectations and how to behave appropriately, such as knowing when it is acceptable to use loud voices and knowing to walk when indoors, is less good than pre-pandemic. This has hindered some children’s learning.
Children who started early years provision during the pandemic have typically taken longer to settle in than previous cohorts. For example, providers report that babies starting since the pandemic have high levels of anxiety and are having to get used to seeing different people. Also, staff can see a difference in the children who have joined during the pandemic and not had the social interactions that would normally be expected.
Some providers continue to notice delays in babies’ physical development.
There were delays in babies learning to crawl and walk. Some providers reported that children had regressed in independence and in self-care skills.
Providers recognised that some children have had fewer opportunities for physical exercise and outdoor play.
Some providers reported regression in children’s independence and self-care skills. For example, more children needed help putting on their coat and blowing their nose.
All providers have made changes to their procedures since the start of the pandemic, and some of these remain. For example, most no longer expect parents to enter the premises when dropping off or collecting children. While this can mean children develop independence in tasks such as hanging up their coats, it can also mean parents and providers miss opportunities to share in-depth information.
Providers reported difficulties retaining high-quality staff. This has left some providers with fewer skilled practitioners. These difficulties have affected the quality of teaching and the implementation of catch-up strategies.
In January 2022, many schools said that COVID-19 had reduced pupils’ attendance. This was a particular challenge for special schools. Leaders also continued to mention the negative impact of the pandemic on pupils’ well-being and behaviour.
COVID-related anxiety among parents continued to be a challenge for some school leaders this term. Some parents were not sending their children to school because of their concerns. Anxiety around COVID-19 was thought to be higher among certain communities, including Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.
Schools have faced external barriers, such as delays accessing external services, particularly in relation to mental health. Special schools have been especially challenged by this as they rely on a lot of services from external agencies.
Pupils in Reception needed more support to develop social skills such as taking turns and listening.
The pandemic has also continued to affect pupils’ knowledge and skills, either because content had not been taught when schools were partially closed or because pupils did not learn well remotely. The leaders that we spoke to this term were identifying similar issues to those reported in autumn, including knowledge gaps in phonics, mathematics and writing stamina. Some schools also reported a decline in pupils taking certain subjects for GCSE and A level, including triple science and English Baccalaureate subjects.
In January 2022, school leaders described gaps in:
writing stamina and handwriting
languages, particularly in pupils’ speaking and listening skills
physical education (PE)
Leaders tended to mention subjects where the knowledge that was missing was essential for pupils to progress in the subject. This does not mean that other subjects, such as geography and history, have not been impacted. However, the knowledge gaps in these subjects may not be as critical for pupils’ progression.
Many leaders highlighted their concerns about the Reception Year cohort, particularly in relation to children’s weaker speech and language development.
Some schools were finding that behaviour continued to be a challenge in January 2022. Leaders said that pupils’ level of engagement and ability to stay on task continued to be worse than pre-pandemic. Several leaders mentioned that children in Reception were not as used to sharing and taking turns, and more work was needed to develop their listening skills. This was thought to be because pupils had had fewer pre-school social experiences.
We are concerned that, because of the understandable focus on learners with gaps in their knowledge and/or skills, there is a risk that more advanced learners are not being pushed or challenged.
Gaps in learners’ practical skills were still evident.
In too many cases, learners with high needs had gaps in their learning because the curriculum throughout the pandemic had focused on health and well-being instead of challenging them. The pandemic had also made it more difficult to secure work placements.
In some cases there were gaps in apprentices’ theoretical knowledge because, understandably, they were not able to spend enough time studying the theoretical elements of their programmes.
During our discussions, we heard that several providers largely focused attention and time on learners who had gaps in their knowledge and/or skills. The unintended consequence of this was that some of their more advanced learners were not pushed or challenged as much as they would have been usually.
Too many learners with high needs had gaps in their learning. This was because providers had to focus on learners’ health and well-being during the pandemic, rather than on delivering a challenging curriculum. In some providers, this had not yet changed.
During the pandemic, learners and apprentices’ opportunities to develop and practise practical skills were disrupted.
In many cases, learners’ behaviour was more challenging than usual, particularly that of young learners who had enrolled directly from school. Disruption towards the end of this cohort’s education had resulted in more disruptive and juvenile behaviour. In several cases, learners’ social skills had dwindled, and they were less confident and independent. During classes, some learners struggled to concentrate and learn with their peers. Many learners were experiencing mental health problems, including anxiety about taking external examinations.
Social interaction between some learners was more limited and peer relationships more fraught. In some instances, this manifested in disrespectful and confrontational behaviour. Friendship groups were more limited than they may have been pre-pandemic. This is because COVID-related measures, such as social distancing, digital learning, learners being in ‘bubbles’ at the start of the academic year and transition events being virtual, meant that learners had limited opportunities to meet peers outside of class. One provider said that learners found it difficult being around their peers as they had not learned as a group or collaborated with others in the previous part of their education.
Some learners were less resilient and confident than those in previous cohorts. A few providers noted that learners lacked confidence to speak in lessons and struggled to articulate what they wanted to say when they did. Some, particularly those with high needs, had regressed in their independence, continued to find communication difficult and were more uncomfortable in large groups of people.
Behaviour generally had deteriorated and become more juvenile, particularly in colleges. Inspectors saw an increase in poor behaviour, such as pushing in corridors, barging into classrooms and shouting.
Some learners took longer to settle and found concentrating difficult in learning environments. Some learners who had enrolled from school did not have the skills to be an effective learner, including behaviour, social and study skills, as a result of the disruption they experienced during their GCSEs.
This [low attendance] was due to COVID-related anxiety and the reluctance of some parents, especially parents of learners with high needs, to send them back to face-to-face learning. In addition, some learners, whose secondary education had been significantly disrupted, had not developed the attitudes, skills and behaviours for successful studying, and chose not to attend.
Securing work placements was a significant challenge for many providers because of changes in the focus of businesses and working practices, employers going out of business, a reduction in trade and employers not wanting additional people in the workplace. In some cases, learners were not aware of opportunities for work experience. Some had not had any discussions about this with their provider.
On apprenticeships, this was because apprentices were furloughed, took breaks in learning and shifted to remote education. This disruption had left some apprentices unclear about their progress and what they needed to do to complete their programme successfully. Gaps in knowledge and skills were particularly evident in areas that could not be taught remotely. For example, some new learners who enrolled from school had less well-developed practical skills, including in music, drama and fine art, than previous cohorts.
Similar problems affected many learners on courses with practical content and/or work experience, especially when they were studying for qualifications that signify occupational competence.
Placements in health and social care remained difficult to secure. This was due, in part, to the mandate for some care staff to be double vaccinated. In social care, for example, low staffing levels left little capacity to release people to be trained or to mentor learners. Staffing problems were compounded by staff having to self-isolate and by the social distancing measures required in health and social care settings. The number of placements available had also reduced in the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic, such as hospitality, food manufacturing and hair and beauty. In the latter, this was because salons had either gone out of business or, when they did re-open, high customer demand meant they were unable to accommodate apprentices. Learners who have missed out on work experience may be at risk of disadvantage in the future labour market, since work experience is often crucial in securing employment.
Providers found it more difficult to secure placements for learners with high needs. Even before the pandemic, some had difficulty arranging work placements and these challenges had intensified. Supported internships were also difficult to secure.
Some apprentices, particularly those in key worker roles such as health and social care, childcare and road maintenance, were not being released for off-the-job training. In some cases, learners were studying in their own time.
With businesses under increased pressure, inspectors had concerns about how meaningful placements were. This is because some employers had prioritised business need over developing skills, leading to scenarios where, for example, tasks would be given to trained staff who could complete the job more quickly and efficiently. Furthermore, not all placements were relevant to learners’ vocational subject(s) and so did not help them to develop subject-specific knowledge and skills.
Children were abysmally let down by cowardly bureaucrats who spent two years focussing on their own mortality rather than the well-being of the children they were meant to protect. As with many other aspects of the pandemic, this must not be forgotten and people must be held accountable.
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