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Diving into COVID survey data, part 3 – ‘Education’


Since the start of the pandemic, NYA and the Centre for Youth Impact have been gathering a range of the surveys focused on the impact of coronavirus on young people and the organisations that exist to support them. The data these surveys produce may be useful to researchers, practitioners and policy makers, and the list of surveys with data available is here. 

We recognise that the sheer number means it’s unlikely that many people will get the opportunity to really dive into the findings and so we will periodically be writing short and accessible blogs that will be looking at key themes across the surveys, and what they are telling us (and what they aren’t). 

Most of the surveys captured ‘snapshots’ from different stages of lockdown. There are fewer ‘longitudinal’ surveys or ones concerned with ‘transitional’ phases for exiting lockdown or the reduction of other social measures, though this may change moving forwards.

In this blog we look at how education has been impacted during lockdown.

Education during lockdown:
Data from the surveys we collated highlight that experiences of education during lockdown have been varied for children and young people. Findings show that some have: 

  • had their options affected by the ways in which exam results have been calculated; 
  • been unable to prepare for transition into new schools or colleges; 
  • received strong support from either their schools or within their homes, though many (perhaps up to 50%) said they had not had much contact from their schools, leaving them feeling ‘forgotten’ by teachers; and/or
  • received lots of contact, but it did not always feel meaningful and felt instead like a ‘tick box’ exercise. 

Whilst nearly all teachers estimate that their pupils are behind in their ‘curriculum learning’, the surveys show us that home learning has also not been uniform, with the quantity and quality of education most often affected by levels of young people’s and parental engagement with remote learning, household income, and any additional needs: 

  • families with children who qualify for pupil premium and FSM were twice as likely to say they lacked all the resources they needed to support home learning (including access to digital devices)
  • high-income families were twice as likely to take part in live and recorded lessons every day
  • teachers in the most deprived schools are more than twice as likely to say that any submitted work is of lower quality than usual
  • children and young people with additional needs, such as those who are care experienced or young carers, reported not getting any additional support

N.B. There are contrasting survey findings which means it is not yet clear whether there is a correlation between parental engagement and other factors.

Returning to schools:
The return to schools is therefore a complex time, even without the uncertainty of how they will operate. Some children and young people have lost family or friends due to COVID-19, and many are anxious about contributing to further spread of the virus and are unsure of how a return to schools may affect this. There is ongoing uncertainty over how exams and university admissions will operate next year.

These varied experiences and continued questions mean there will be differences in what young people may anticipate and associate with a return to schools, their relationships with teachers, and their potential levels of engagement.

However, most young people, whilst anxious, are looking forward to a return to schools because it provides a routine and opportunities to reconnect with friends and peers – factors seen as important for mental wellbeing. For many young carers, a return to school also provides ‘respite’ from their responsibilities at home. For a wider range of young people, a return to school is seen as a source of some external support.

Several responses also suggest that some young people and families are expecting that a return to schools is a return to ‘normality’. However, despite schools reopening in full, this does not signify a ‘return to normal’: there are variations in how schools will operate, local lockdowns and other restrictions for a significant period. This will mean altered routines and ways of learning.

There is a need for clear communication to both young people and their household so help alleviate some of the confusion surrounding this, especially where further lockdowns may be enforced.

Benefits of lockdown education:
Surveys have highlighted some positive benefits of altered education provision, especially for young people who suffered from or were at risk of anxiety pre-pandemic. For many of these young people the break from normality was beneficial, resulting in a reduction in anxiety. There is no single reason for this, but survey responses showed that:

  • Social pressures that occurred primarily in school, such as bullying and mental health difficulties, had been alleviated during lockdown.
  • A change in environment and learning approach (e.g. more flexible hours of learning and a greater reliance on self-direction and choice of what to learn) was beneficial to many
  • For young people who were more disengaged or struggling, altering provision to accommodate, ‘attachment’, more ‘soft skill’ development, and more chances to learn about things which interested them encouraged greater engagement
  • Children and young people in multi-agency provision often benefitted from not moving between provisions during lockdown, finding this less stressful
  • Relationships between young people and their parents or carers were often strengthened as a result of having to tackle schoolwork together
  • A less intense focus on the constant marking and grading of schoolwork was beneficial

Where asked, around 10% of parents or carers were ‘likely’ to consider more permanent changes such as flexi-time or full-time home education for their child.

For the latter, there is a strong indication that parents and young carers would benefit from extra support, as many reported feeling ‘exhausted’ during the initial period of home-schooling, and many others reported not getting adequate or relevant support.

Across multiple surveys, children and young people repeatedly stated that the two most important things schools could provide for their learning and wellbeing during lockdown were:

  • personalised check-ins and contact
  • extra-curricular activities

Where asked, parents and carers, and teachers and school staff consistently state that the most important things are:

  • additional pastoral support
  • extra ‘positive activities’ 
  • a focus on mental health and wellbeing

To be most useful these should be situated in a context that recognises that the social or financial impacts of COVID-19 have hit many households – inequality and vulnerabilities for young people are on the rise, and many families are, or expect to be in, more challenging financial circumstances, burdened with concerns around employment, accommodation and food security.

Services should work together to identify such instances to provide appropriate support, and these survey findings build on such calls for a youth work response in formal education as outlined in this report

The surveys are clear that time should be taken to understand each young person’s needs to provide tailored support, especially being:

  • Flexible in the approach to education: 
    - Despite the probable need for intensive support and catch up for many young people, it will also be necessary to provide a phased approach to education, and greater personal and social development and emotional support for their long-term wellbeing.
    - Many families and young people want to retain of some of the positive benefits of lockdown education and altered provisions.
  • Sensitive to family contexts: 
    - For instance if a household member is in a vulnerable or ‘shielding’ category, a young carer may need extra remote support.
  • Aware of vulnerabilities: 
    - Local authorities children’s services expect a sharp rise in safeguarding issues and referrals for children in need. 
    - Some young people expect delayed bullying and threats as people are brought together in physical spaces again.
  • Poverty aware:
    - Some young people may be excluded from accessing activities or the same opportunities as peers, or may not be able to afford new school uniform or equipment etc.
    - The effects and stigma of poverty can severely impact a young person’s wellbeing and their education
  • Prepared for further lockdowns:
    - If there are further lockdowns or blended learning, the young person may not have digital or remote learning capability.
    - There are significant variances in levels of parental engagement with remote learning, seen as a key factor in the viability of remote learning.
    - Some young people are in households which require extra support during periods of lockdown, this impacts on their learning capability.