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Children regress in basic skills due to COVID-19 restrictions

Children who have been among the worst impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and associated restrictions have regressed in terms of their learning and basic skills, Ofsted has warned.

A second report looking at the effects Of COVID-19 on education and social care from the inspectorate highlights that young children whose parents were unable to work more flexibly, and who experienced less time with parents and other children, have lapsed back into nappies, forgotten how to eat with a knife and fork, or lost their early progress in numbers and words.

Many older children now lack stamina in reading and writing, while inspectors also found that some have lost physical fitness and others are showing signs of mental distress, manifesting in an increase in eating disorders and self-harm.

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman said: “We have now entered a second national lockdown. This time, at least, schools, colleges and nurseries are to remain open. That is very good news indeed. The impact of school closures in the summer will be felt for some time to come – and not just in terms of education, but in all the ways they impact on the lives of young people.”

WillisPalmer warned of the dangers that a lengthy lockdown could have on children, many of whom may have experienced abuse and neglect while ‘hidden’ from professionals including teachers. That is why we launched our Children’s Charter in September urging teachers to be aware of signs of abuse and neglect and to refer to children’s services where necessary. Our recent update on the situation at half term found that many young people’s experiences during lockdown have yet to come to the fore due to a reticence among children to acknowledge that abuse may have occurred or fear of how a disclosure could affect both themselves and their family.

Indeed, Ofsted also continues to be worried about the children who were out of sight during the closure of schools. Referrals to social care teams have fallen and have not returned to more typical levels since schools have re-opened as anticipated which raises concerns that neglect, exploitation or abuse is going undetected.

Ofsted carried out more than 900 visits to education and social care providers during September and October. These visits are not judgemental and do not result in an inspection grade but are a mechanism for inspectors to hear how providers are coping with this challenging start to the new academic year.

HM Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, said that children and learners have slipped back in their learning to varying degrees since the first national lockdown in March. While some children have coped well in the face of restrictions, others have been particularly hard hit largely because of the interplay between their circumstances and the impact of the pandemic.

However, children’s experiences were not reflective of deprivation. The children that are coping well have good support structures around them and have benefited from quality time spent with families and carers. This includes children from all backgrounds, including those within the care system, some of whom had an improved relationship with carers during the restrictions.

Children with SEND have been seriously affected in both their care and education across all age groups, as the services that families relied on – particularly speech and language services – were unavailable.

The reports highlighted that inspectors found senior leaders across the board are working more intensively than ever and showing remarkable resilience. However, leaders across education and social care expressed their concerns over budgets. Covering for staff absences and maintaining enhanced cleaning regimes are pushing up costs in schools and children’s homes. These concerns are compounded in early years and further education by worries over income streams.

Ofsted’s first report, published last month, found that around a third of the schools visited had seen an increase in children being educated at home. This second report finds that this remains a concern, with around a half of schools visited seeing an increase in home schooling. School leaders reported that this was being motivated by parents’ fears about the virus, rather than their committed desire to home educate.

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman said: “As it was in the first lockdown, the work of teachers, social workers and carers, with the support of parents, will again be critical to the future success and happiness of our children.”

Ofsted’s programme of visits will continue remotely during the current lockdown with further reports being published in December.

Ofsted COVID-19 series


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