How did schools respond to Covid-19? (and what more support do they need?)
In partnership with Ipsos Mori, Sheffield Hallam University
by Baz Ramaiah
26th January 2023
For many, Covid-19 is beginning to feel like a thing of the past. However, the impact of the pandemic on young people’s education is very much a thing of the present.
The legacy of school closures and disruption to learning continue to shape the educational experiences and outcomes of our young people. Commissioned by the Department for Education, our latest report takes a detailed look at how schools responded to Covid-19 in the 2021-22 academic year and what they still need from government to support young people’s educational recovery.
Produced in partnership with Ipsos Mori and Sheffield Hallam University, this fascinating report is a culmination of over two years of work. Pulling together surveys, school leader interviews and case studies, the report offers a detailed account of how a wide range of schools (including alternative provisions) experienced great challenges over the pandemic and adapted to them.
While there is much that highlights the hardships schools have faced, there are also bright spots that emphasise the resilience, adaptability and sheer brilliance of teachers and school leaders in England.
Some key themes explored in the report include –
Learning loss goes beyond literacy and numeracy
- Children lost skills in self-management and behaviour for learning over the pandemic. One teacher told us that they only realised the extent of this loss when they took a class on a trip and were stunned by the confused, needy behaviour of pupils.
- Children lost the opportunity to develop key physical skills during school closures. One primary school leader told us that, due to the fact most of their pupils access swimming lessons through school, a third of their year 6 pupils will be transitioning into secondary unable to swim.
- Children’s social skills deteriorated during school closures. A primary teacher described the strange atmosphere in their playground as “children had forgotten how to play with each other”.
Many schools have focussed their recovery approach on pupils’ mental health
- Schools have taken on extra counselling staff. During the 2021-22 academic year, a school leader told us they had employed three full-time counsellors to respond to greater need for mental health support among pupils.
- Schools have tried to expand mental health expertise among their staff. Another school leader told us they have trained 32 members of staff in ‘mental health first aid’ to help them spot signs of mental health conditions in students and direct them to the right support.
- Schools say they need more mental health support from the government. Many school leaders told us that they want the government to provide them with more funding and support specifically for improving pupil mental wellbeing as well as social and emotional skills.
The relationship between parents and schools has changed over the course of the pandemic
- Teachers find themselves caught between two kinds of parent. When schools reopened in the 2021-22 academic year, many teachers told us that they found parents either demanding that their child be given extra homework or intervention (to catch up on lost learning) or demanding less homework or intervention to allow them an opportunity to recover from the stresses of the lockdown period.
- Parents’ expectations of schools have changed. One school leader reported a large increase in parents insisting on taking their school out of class during term time for holidays, claiming that their child needed to catch up on such opportunities lost over the pandemic.
- Some schools strengthened their relationships with parents over the pandemic. A school leader in a pupil referral unit, who typically struggle to communicate with parents, reported having many more conversations with parents during school closures. This was frequently to arrange the delivery of food vouchers, but nonetheless allowed the setting to establish communication with parents they had sometimes had next to no contact with.
Read more of these accounts from schools, as well as survey data and recommendations to the Department for Education in the full report here