Being out of school will have affected children – we just don’t know how much
What will the long-term impact of the schooling hiatus be on this generation of children?
You hear such varying views.
“They’ll be fine. Kids are so resilient,” goes the standard response, a balm applied by grandparents bemused by modern parents’ capacity to fret.
And who can blame them: their own childhoods were characterised by frequent bouts of extended school absence for scarlet fever, measles, mumps: they were off for weeks at a time, repeatedly, ill then recuperating, usually cared for by an omnipresent mother. They turned out all right, didn’t they?
But homespun wisdom – one part truth, one part complacency, with a dash of pull-yourself-together – can’t quell the disquieting feeling that the loss of three months’ schooling will have lasting consequences, of some sort, somewhere down the line, for individual children certainly but also for the cohort as a whole.
One mum friend of mine told me she had unwisely hit the internet in the wee hours and found research evidence in the wake of various natural disasters to indicate that missing swathes of schooling has an impact that can be seen years later in educational attainment. She snapped her computer shut feeling less than reassured.
But losing your home during an earthquake is in no sense equivalent to homeschooling during lockdown. So what can we guess about the possible long term impact?
The Royal Society certainly wasn’t in reassurance mode when it released a report last week saying that lost school time would indeed the whole economy, with a quarter of the workforce having lower skills from the mid-2030s for 50 years afterwards, all because they had lost a few months of schooling during the COVID pandemic.
In their bleak estimation, all year groups will be affected. The academics warn there could be a three percent reduction in future earnings for these pupils (unless, presumably, the children can be caught up with where they should be).
All in all, the loss of 12 weeks of schooling was likely to have “a very significant impact” which would be greater for younger children.
Those living in poverty have suffered disproportionately, as they always do. Levelling up children from different backgrounds is difficult enough even when school is in; after three months without it, returning teachers are likely to find a markedly wider spectrum of attainment in their classrooms than they saw before. A survey by the mentoring charity MCR Pathways found that three quarters of disadvantaged and care-experienced Scottish pupils have been unable to do any school work during lockdown, with one in four having other caring responsibilities that took priority.
But nearly every parent of a primary school child I’ve spoken to seems to be thinking, not about attainment and long term skills, but about their children’s wellbeing. Nearly all are saying the same thing: that their children became more truculent about learning and more prone to bouts of challenging behaviour, the
longer lockdown went on. They report children being more touchy and fragile – happy one moment, tearful the next – and being increasingly exasperated by their parents having to work. The summer holidays haven’t felt much like summer holidays for obvious reasons.
They don’t need academics to tell them that lockdown has affected their children’s mental wellbeing.
Many children will have no direct experience of Covid or of the ruinous tornado it has cut through the economy, but will be feeling dislocated and insecure because of lockdown.
And lonely. Lockdown has certainly made a collective experience out of loneliness.
For many, hopefully, this will be mild and short-lived. But for some, it will be more severe.
The children of most serious concern, it was clear early on in this crisis, are those who were already vulnerable beforehand. Teachers quaked with worry when schools first shut, four months ago now, to think of what some pupils’ lives would be like. These are children for whom school is their safe space. Charities and social work staff have been working in every way they can to support these children but school cannot start soon enough.
The MCR Pathways survey found two thirds of disadvantaged and care experienced Scottish young people had felt low, anxious or stressed during lockdown.
The Royal Society report suggests adolescents, vulnerable children, children in care and those with particular conditions like autism, are most likely to be worse affected.
Some children will have experienced bereavement, perhaps for the first time, and could be anxious about their own health and that of their loved ones.
There is bound to be an impact, in a small way or a big way, for nearly every child. We just might not know the full extent of it for several weeks, months or years to come.