COVID-19 AND IT’S EFFECTS ON MENTAL HEALTH AND EDUCATION IN THE UK- part 6 of 8

Ruberta Bisson
14 min readOct 18, 2020
Technology is the way forward- but it’s not that easy

6-Education Part 2

IFS REPORT 18TH MAY 2020 (IMPACT OF LEARNING IN LOCKDOWN)

On 18th May 2020, the IFS and IoE released a report on what learning in lockdown has been like during April and May (https://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/14848). It aimed to analyse the effects of the decision to close schools and shift to remote learning. I was interested to see if our family was the only one with negative experiences.

For policymakers seeking to balance the public health benefits of the lockdown with the economic and educational costs of school closures (which in turn will have consequences for health), it is essential to understand what home learning during lockdown looks like across the country.

In this report, we present initial evidence on how children are spending their time during the lockdown, with a focus on home learning activities and the home learning resources available in different families. This evidence is based on a new survey, specially designed by researchers at IFS and the Institute of Education (IoE). The survey was completed online by over 4,000 parents of children aged 4–15 between Wednesday 29 April and Tuesday 12 May 2020.

Key findings:

· Primary and secondary students are each spending about 5 hours a day on average on home learning. However, secondary school children are more likely to have online classes and to spend their leisure time online. So the average student is getting a full school day of lessons? This would seem good, but there is no guarantee that they covered the same amount of content that they would have at school in that time. We were constantly with my brother, but for parents who left their children to learn independently it would be difficult to gauge how much of the time was spent productively. Additionally, this is an average figure. Some students would have spent much less time studying and others much more. It’s important to note that this isn’t indicative of the parents views on education- they may have been unable to get their children to spend time on learning due to lack of time or knowledge despite wanting it prioritised.

· Higher-income parents are much more likely than the less well-off to report that their child’s school provides online classes and access to online video conferencing with teachers. 64% of secondary pupils in state schools from the richest households are being offered active help from schools, such as online teaching, compared with 47% from the poorest fifth of families. 82% of secondary school pupils attending private school are offered active help, with 79% being provided with online classes.

· Children from better-off families are spending 30% more time on home learning than are those from poorer families. Children in the highest-income fifth of families spend 5.8 hours a day on educational activities, over 75 minutes more than their peers in the poorest fifth of households (4.5 hours). Over the 34 days (minimum) that schools will be closed, students in the best-off families will have done more than 7 full school days worth of extra learning time. If schools do not go back until September and current rates of home learning continue, the gap would double to 15 full school days. This could have very substantial long-term consequences in light of evidence that even one extra hour a week of instructional time can significantly raise achievement.

· Better-off students have access to more resources for home learning. Within state primary and secondary schools, parents in the richest families are around 15 percentage points more likely than those in the poorest fifth to report that their child’s school offers active resources such as online classes, or video or text chatting. More than half (58%) of primary school students from the least well-off families do not have access to their own study space.

These last 3 points make it clear that family income is sadly a barrier to learning. Better off students spent more time on learning, got better resources and support from school and were more likely to be able to access those resources and have a good place to work. Damning statistics indeed. Hopefully the return to school can begin to mitigate the effects of these factors, but I’m thinking it will have a long-term impact on attainment even so.

· Many parents of both primary and secondary school students report struggling with supporting home learning. Almost 60% of the parents of primary school children and nearly half of the parents of secondary school children report that they are finding it quite or very hard to support their children’s learning at home.

This statistic will be comforting for any family that struggled, but it would be unwise to ignore the implication that over half of families struggled to do home learning and that the students may have gaps in their knowledge. As the below points emphasise further, there will then be an educational gap between the students who were able to learn effectively (independently or with good support from family) and those that didn’t. This never bodes well, but especially not in a country already so divided by wealth and claiming to be trying to reduce the inequality. While I accept that school closures were necessary for public health, there’s no denying the impact on education. The government has since announced schemes to enable students to catch up and to support schools in making the necessary provisions, but everything feels rushed and not well thought out. The students who struggle are indeed the least likely to take advantage of opportunities to get support, meaning that helping them is a complex issue that requires tailored support. The recovery measures simply cannot be ‘one size fits all’ and I hope decision makers realise this before it’s too late.

· School closures are almost certain to increase educational inequalities. Pupils from better-off families are spending longer on home learning; they have access to more individualised resources such as private tutoring or chats with teachers; they have a better home set-up for distance learning; and their parents report feeling more able to support them. Policymakers should already be thinking about how to address the gaps in education that the crisis is widening.

· Whatever strategy the government pursues for reopening schools, there is a risk that it will increase inequalities. Fewer than half of parents say they would send their child back to school if they had the choice. Higher-income parents report being more willing for their child to go back to school. This risks a situation where the children struggling the most to cope with home learning remain at home while their better-off classmates are back in the classroom.

INDEPENDENT ARTICLE 16TH JUNE 2020- UCL EDUCATION STUDY

Another study that reveals educational inequalities is this by the UCL Institute of Education, analysed in this Independent article from 16th June 2020.

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/coronavirus-school-work-home-lockdown-education-ucl-a9567776.html

The following quotes are from the article. If compared to the IFS study’s average figure of 5 hours a day spent on learning, it is clear that individual figures vary widely. Some students have even done barely any work. Especially worrying is the clear divide between well off and poorer families, especially between those that receive FSM and those that don’t. Again, the purpose of revealing these statistics is not to point fingers. Family circumstances, the student’s motivation and needs and the school’s circumstances are all factors that could have been at play in a situation. The important thing is to be aware that many students will have done barely any learning since March and that these students could well be disadvantaged upon their return to school. Rather than getting stuck in a negative thought spiral concerning this, I recommend that families, schools and the government switch to focusing on how to fix this and mitigate the long-term impact. This will involve a range of interventions to provide tailored support, which could be any combination of emotional, financial, or practical. I prefer to believe that this is possible if we start ASAP. Professor Francis Green seems to echo this attitude, in that this can be fixed if fixing it becomes a priority.

More than two million children in the UK have done almost no schoolwork at home during the coronavirus lockdown, according to researchers.

The report…. found one in five pupils have spent less than an hour a day on study since March.

Only 17 per cent of children put in more than four hours of schoolwork a day, it is claimed.

On average, pupils locked down at home in the UK spent an average of 2.5 hours on education, the report concluded.

The figure is less than half that found by previous research — implying that “learning losses are much greater than feared”.

“Most homework consisted of assignments, worksheets and watching videos,” the UCL study found. “On average children were given two such pieces of homework a day.”

However the amount of schoolwork varied widely by region, type of school and category of pupil.

The survey, which is based on the UK Household Longitudinal Study, found that 71 per cent of state school children received less than one daily online lesson.

Meanwhile nearly a third (31 per cent) of private schools provided four or more online lessons daily, compared with just 6 per cent of state schools.

Offline schoolwork was lowest in the northeast of England, where the proportion receiving four or more daily pieces of work was 9 per cent, compared with the UK average of 20 per cent.

Children who are eligible for free school meals (FSMs) were additionally disadvantaged during lockdown, researchers concluded, with one in five having no access to a computer at home, compared to 7 per cent for other children.

Only 11 per cent of children in receipt of FSMs spent more than four hours a day on schoolwork, compared to nearly a fifth (19 per cent) of pupils who are not eligible for free school meals.

Professor Francis Green, the lead author of the study, said the findings paint a “gloomy picture” of missed schooling and low take-up of academic work at home.

He said: “The closure of schools, and their only-partial re-opening, constitute a potential threat to the educational development of a generation of children.

“Everyone is losing out in this generation, some much more than others. Better home schoolwork provision, and better still an early safe return to school for as many as possible, should now become a top priority for government.”

EDTECH ARTICLE- THE GOOD AND THE BAD OF REMOTE LEARNING

This Education Technology article https://edtechnology.co.uk/headlines/nearly-half-of-parents-unhappy-with-remote-learning-during-lockdown/ explores the good and bad of home learning during lockdown. It is from mid-June.

A new survey conducted by Muddy Stilettos Best Schools Guide identifies key concerns over remote learning during lockdown. Specifically:

· Nearly half of parents are dissatisfied with their child’s progress and development since lockdown, which has been seen by other studies

· 82% of children are missing their friends and social interaction with teachers, proving that schools are for more than just learning

· Of the least satisfied parents, only 13% of children have had direct contact and personal guidance on their work with their teachers in 12 weeks, showing that the connection between schools and families is vital to ensure the overall success of education.

· Many children are bored, lack motivation and parents are worried that their education has been set back I worry about this too and I’m hoping they’ll be helped by returning.

1,200 participants responded between 4–9 June to the recent online parent survey across 25 counties in England and covering both State and Independent schools of all ages. And while years 10 and 12 can return to school today, there is continued uncertainty for those who struggle with the challenges of remote learning during lockdown. These are definitely years that should be prioritised, but you can’t ignore the implication that students in other years are not as much of a priority.

Tech-led approach scores higher

The survey revealed that the majority of schools emailed assignments to students or used online education apps, such as Satchel, to deliver their lessons from teachers. Ours were set on Doddle and completed work needed to be emailed. The remoteness of the whole thing and the lack of guidance and connection was difficult to get past, as I’m sure others also felt.

The best performing schools, however, were using more video and interactive learning experiences (either live video conferencing, pre-recorded teacher-led videos or screen-sharing slides with voice overlaid), plus real world and physical assignments to add variety and creativity into their home-learning lessons. They were also more likely to use a wider range of approaches to teaching such as on-line assemblies, links to YouTube, interactive websites (such as MyMaths and Kodu), and experiential lessons such as DT, Science, PE lesson and Cooking.

…. where state schools were delivering more interactive lessons, satisfaction levels were higher. This makes clear the need for interaction with teachers, even if that is via technology. The issue is that the teachers who created these interactive and creative lessons and assignments would have had to invest a lot of time in creating or adapting them, which is not possible for all.

Long-term concerns

Over the long term and while disruption continues, parents of children who were less satisfied by their schools’ lockdown response were more worried about the long-term adverse effects of their child’s mental health than those with children at the higher performing schools *(47% vs 25%).

That’s certainly what we noticed. My brother’s wellbeing suffered a lot but the school couldn’t offer any appropriate help and the GP could only refer us into waiting lists. When students have issues with mental health and it’s difficult to get help (as we found and I’m sure we’re not alone in that) this is bound to cause struggles in every area of life including education, which would certainly cause worries for parents and make them less satisfied with the experience. Again this is a statistic that shows a wealth divide. The government really needs to respond to this pervasive inequality.

The following points should be given to schools as a blueprint for successful learning. They are more difficult to recreate remotely, but the statistics show that it’s well worth it.

When asked to comment on the innovations and clever ideas that schools had used for teaching during lockdown, the survey respondents mentioned a large amount of creativity in how their schools were interacting with their children. These fell into four key areas:

1. Make things real

Integrate virtual engagement with experiential assignments and build in topicality, eg art, baking, experiments, science, and nature projects, at home Sports Days, PE classes

2. Create a sense of community

Assemblies every day for the whole school, online group lessons, class blogs, weekly school podcast

3. Make things fun

Video show and tell, online story-telling, personalised videos from teachers, dressing up, singing, dancing, hosting quizzes, discos, school heads writing and performing lock-down songs, afternoon virtual tea parties

4. Reward and recognition

Having points systems to keep children motivated, awarding virtual badges, weekly awards ceremonies, inter-house competitions

The closing comment if the article really sums up the report. There have been clear challenges, but there are ways that schools can design lessons so that remote learning is successful and students’ overall well-being isn’t adversely affected. Unfortunately, many schools were unable to do this and the consequences are clear, but there is still time to fix it.

Hero Brown, the founder and editor-in-chief of Muddy Stilettos Best Schools Guide, commented: “This survey reveals that the challenges with educating children during Lockdown have been significant and there are obvious areas of improvement. However, evidence also suggests that many schools have pivoted successfully, and there are many exciting opportunities for schools to adapt to this new normal.

“With some classes going back to school, teachers will need to be able to deliver both home learning and classroom group lessons simultaneously. These latest survey results indicate that using interactive video technologies, together with a wider variety of approaches, should be proactively embraced and can further stimulate students to ensure a better educational experience wherever they are.”

HUFFPOST ARTICLE 27TH AUGUST- HOW TO CATCH UP?

This Huffpost article from 27th August (https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/what-schools-will-need-to-do-to-help-pupils-who-have-fallen-behind_uk_5f4576f4c5b64f17e135634d) explores the measures that some schools are putting in place to help students catch up. The logistical and financial challenges of these measures are great, but schools have to think of what’s best for the students. The article begins with the statistics-supported declaration that lockdown left pupils disadvantaged before talking about the catch-up plan and measures that schools are introducing. If nothing else, it is reassuring that schools have truly thought about the impact of the period of remote learning and are committed to doing what they can to help students so that the long-term impact is reduced.

Although his Year 10 to 13 students were able to attend some classes in person in June and July and as such are “in a reasonably good position”, UTC South Durham’s principal Tom Dower said he was still concerned about the potential attainment gap in his classrooms next week.

It would be a really foolish mistake for students to have a full-on exam season. As yet, other arrangements are still being discussed in government. I agree that it would be too much unnecessary stress for students who had the first year of their qualifications disrupted and now need to catch up. My tutees have said that they worry about being ready for exams.

“We’ve had lots of communication with families,” he told HuffPost UK. “Some students have not been making much progress in their development generally, and others have because of the opportunities available to them.

“Some students have had real problems with a lack of technology. We have one boy who is one of eight children in the family, so finding space to be able to work and think is really difficult — there are plenty of examples of those.” In this sort of situation, providing resources would only go so far in helping a student study. Other examples of extenuating circumstances I can think of include a general atmosphere of stress and scarcity in the home that affects wellbeing or there could also be students who are young carers like I was who have a whole other role on their mind. It is only when schools are aware of a student’s circumstances that they can work on understanding or supporting them, but this is not possible in all cases whether due to uncaring staff or a secretive student. In our situation, the school’s lack of awareness of my brother’s emotional and learning challenges made it very hard to support him or to get help. I don’t blame anyone here but hopefully he can be supported now.

As the head of a college for 14- to 19-year-olds, Dower is particularly concerned about how this gap will affect pupils due to take their GCSEs or A-levels next summer. He believes the government’s plan to run exams as normal is “really foolish mistake” that could have a “detrimental” impact on pupils’ development and “put unfair pressure on students as well as staff”.

….

Certainly. They’d need to rush through content and wouldn’t get a good understanding of it. Learning is about expanding your mind and abilities, not just learning the skills to pass an exam. In stressful times this often gets overlooked and we have functionally challenged adults who could have had a different outcome.

This concluding section sums up the takeaways from the article. Students have been affected in a variety of ways by remote learning and it is best to get them back in a safe way as soon as possible. It will take time to reverse the damage, which is why it’s imperative that students return to schools ASAP.

And while the school heads and education experts who spoke to HuffPost UK were divided over the methods they plan to carry out to rescue disadvantaged pupils from the attainment gap, they were unanimous in saying it was crucial for these students to safely return to their classroom as soon as possible.

“It’s so important that everything is done to get schools and pupils back in September,” Action Tutoring’s CEO, Susannah Hardyman, said. “If pupils miss any more learning time, the damage will be absolutely huge — not just to their learning but also to their social, emotional and mental health.”

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Ruberta Bisson

Left wing millenial with an interest in STEM, education and mental health activism. As for music, it’s classic rock all the way!