Yesterday morning I joined Andre Walker for his 5.00 to 7.00 am show on Talk Radio for an item on the effects of Covid-19 on children’s education. The piece had been prompted by newspaper headlines about the irreversible and catastrophic effects on children’s development, learning and general wellbeing and newspaper reports claiming that many of the nation’s children had done virtually no home learning since lockdown started over twelve weeks ago.
Any crisis on the scale of The Pandemic is sure to highlight major social and economic issues, for example, those involved in education are currently debating the fact that children and young people from socially disadvantaged backgrounds have been particularly affected by school closures and the same is being said about children with additional needs. For this reason government introduced measures early on that meant some schools would stay open for children with formally identified additional needs. It was also recommended that children who could not access the largely new-technology based home learning programmes, were supported through alternative means such as telephone calls from school staff and mailed learning materials. I know from talking with teachers and families that these measures have been far from perfect and that some children will not have done a great deal of home learning since lockdown started. In fact, Boris Johnson recently announced that an additional one billion pounds will be made available to schools to attempt to help children catch up on missed time at school.
In many respects it is a good thing that the public debate about the effects of Covid-19 on children is underway. It is also a good thing that the UK government has launched a new public inquiry: ‘The impact of COVID-19 on education and children’s services in which the implications of the coronavirus pandemic for the education sector and the impact on children and young people will be examined in a wide-ranging inquiry by the Education Committee.
The preface to the call for submissions states: “The inquiry will look at how the outbreak of COVID-19 is affecting all aspects of the education sector and children’s social care system and will scrutinise how the Department for Education is dealing with the situation. It will examine both short term impacts, such as the effects of school closures and exam cancellations, as well as longer-term implications particularly for the most vulnerable children.”
But is it accurate and is it helpful to state categorically, as some newspapers and some public bodies are doing, that little or no learning has taken place? I don’t think so and I was glad to have the opportunity to speak on the topic and offer a perspective that, whilst acknowledging the seriousness of the current and ongoing situation, also offers an unashamedly more hopeful outlook.
There is no doubt that the home learning arrangements for most children are unlikely to have replaced the formal curriculum arrangements usually offered by their schools and it is likely that their academic progression has been interrupted. Most teachers to whom I have talked say that they are not as concerned about this as much as the pandemic’s repercussions for their pupils’ emotional and social development. This is largely why, in the writing and presentations I have been doing in recent weeks for supporting adults involved with children, I suggest that parents should not be trying to replicate schools in their homes and should be focused on other learning priorities and a good balance each day of activities that support:
- Personal development, including managing emotions, emotional resilience, recognising and fully using personal strengths and working on personal weaknesses
- Relationships, including communication and managing conflict
- Physical activity, health and wellbeing
- The importance of caring for the environment
- Skills for Life, including using new technology and home skills such as cooking, personal and home care
Every parent has a unique and in-depth knowledge and understanding of their particular child/children and using the hard earned skills and expertise they have developed over time, usually on a daily basis, there is a great deal they will have helped their children to learn during this compulsory time at home. They may not be professional teachers and their hard work is not generally rewarded in any financial form but that doesn’t mean they have taught their children nothing and that what they have taught is without value. So no, I do not think it is the case that most children have not been learning at home as a result of school closures and I am looking forward to the time when children return to school and teachers and parents continue to work together to support their learning and development.