Children hardest hit by Covid-19 are ‘regressing in basic learning’


Youngsters have lapsed back into nappies and forgotten how to eat with a knife and fork, while older children now lack "stamina" in reading and writing due to the coronavirus pandemic, Ofsted has warned.

A series of reports from the watchdog suggest that children hardest hit by nursery and school closures have regressed in some basic skills and learning.

Some children have fallen behind with their mathematics and are struggling with literacy, while school leaders have reported a rise in older pupils self-harming or suffering from eating disorders, according to Ofsted.

The report into the impact of the pandemic is based on more than 900 visits to education and social care providers across England since September.

Inspectors found children's experiences were not necessarily determined by privilege or deprivation. Rather, those children who are coping well have good support structures around them, the report found.

It suggests some toilet-trained children – whose parents were unable to work more flexibly in lockdown – have returned to early years settings using nappies and dummies at an older age than expected by providers.

Ofsted's chief inspector Amanda Spielman said young children – whose families could not work flexibly during closures – had experienced the "double whammy" of less time with parents and less time with other children.

The report comes as Ms Spielman is due to appear before MPs on the Education Select Committee to speak about the impact of Covid-19 on pupils.

On the findings, she said: "Leaders reported regression back into nappies among potty-trained children and others who had forgotten some basic skills they had mastered, such as eating with a knife and fork – not to mention the loss of early progress in words and numbers."

The report found some pupils' concentration, or their mental and physical stamina, had reduced during the pandemic, with headteachers reporting that students were finding it difficult to write for long periods of time.

"Some leaders said pupils were fatigued, 'disconnected' from learning or struggling to stay awake and alert," it adds.

Initial findings – based on 121 pilot visits to schools across England in September – found that more than one in three schools had reported a rise in children being home educated.

The latest report from Ofsted suggests around half of schools visited by inspectors last month have now seen an increase in home schooling, which heads say has been motivated by families' anxieties about Covid-19 rather than because educating at home had gone well during the first lockdown.

Amanda Spielman, Ofsted Chief Inspector
Amanda Spielman, Ofsted Chief Inspector

Schools are providing remote learning to children who have had to self-isolate at home, but there appears to be some variation in how schools approach the way in which they deliver home learning.

Ms Spielman said: "It remains the case that the home learning experience is patchy and, in many cases, not aligned effectively with the classroom curriculum."

But she acknowledged that it also requires motivation from pupils who may be distracted by "technological temptations".

Heads told inspectors that boys had spent much of the lockdown video gaming – and they said it was influencing some boys' behaviour in school.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: "This report starkly shows the educational and emotional impact of school closures, and why we need to do everything possible to keep schools open amidst the turmoil caused by the Covid pandemic.

"Home learning is affected by far too many differing factors to be effective for all children. Some of these factors cut across all social groups, such as whether parents are available to support their children or have work commitments.

"While others particularly affect disadvantaged children, such as the availability of laptops."

The report also highlights that school leaders are concerned about their budgets as covering for staff absences and maintaining enhanced cleaning regimes are pushing up costs in schools and children's homes.

A petition calling for the Government to reimburse schools for the costs they have incurred due to the pandemic has passed 13,000 signatures in a week.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders' union NAHT, said: "Schools are now facing the possibility of these costs spiralling as we move into the winter months ahead. We are calling on Government to look at this again.

"Given everything that has been reported about pupils' needs, it is imperative that the Government covers these increasing costs in full, in addition to the 'catch-up' funding that has already been announced."

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "The Government has been clear that getting all pupils and students back into full-time education is a national priority."

She added: "We know that some children do need additional support to catch up as a result of the pandemic, which is why we launched a £1 billion Covid catch-up fund for schools to support those children who need it.

"Our National Tutoring Programme is now live in schools, providing intensive support to the most disadvantaged children. The evidence shows high-quality tutoring can make up as much as three to five months' lost learning."