Two reports published in the last week have highlighted the stark and continuing impact of COVID-19 on children’s educational attainment.

Figures released by the Department for Education on 20th July revealed that over 1 million children were absent from school in the previous week, for reasons related to coronavirus.

The data showed that most absent pupils were unable to attend school because of contact with someone who had the virus within a school setting, whilst a smaller number had done so outside of school.

The current system for dealing with outbreaks in schools means that class ‘bubbles’ must isolate for 10 days if there is a positive case within the bubble. The need for large numbers of pupils to isolate together has, in some cases, led to the closure of schools.

However, the Education Secretary has announced that, from Monday 16th August, the bubble system will come to an end, with a view to minimising disruptions to children’s education.

The consequences of the disruption that COVID has had on education was crystalised in a new report from the charity I CAN, focusing upon young people’s speaking skills.

The charity’s research indicated that, based on teacher estimates, 1.5m children are at risk of not being able to understand language or speak at a level appropriate to their age.

It also predicts that 63% of pupils moving from primary to secondary school will struggle with their speaking and language skills.

There is a consensus view among primary and secondary teachers that, without extra support, these children will not catch up.

One of the reasons behind teachers’ concerns is the use of technology in place of face-to-face social interaction. 75% of primary school teachers believe that not being able to speak to their friends in person is a key driver of this issue, whilst 72% also believe that too much use of tablets and smart phones is part of the problem.

Among I CAN’s recommendations is a call for the government to increase funding for children’s speech and language therapy provision, to enable those who have fallen behind to catch up.

Teachers’ worries about the over-reliance on technology highlights a potential downside to online learning. RISE’s current research into digital learning – a global study which seeks to understand what best practice looks like across six case-study countries – is interested in understanding how students develop skills, as well as subject knowledge.

Although our project does not focus upon school-age teaching and learning, its findings will nonetheless have broad implications for how world-leading educationalists embed skills development opportunities into their online pedagogy.


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