The closure of schools to all but a few children was one of the many unprecedented measures taken to slow the spread of the disease. Individual schools responded in different ways, but away from the classroom social inequalities were able to define children’s educations like never before – those with access to a computer, a quiet study space and parents with time to teach them are likely to have had a very different experience to those without. Many people spoke about the isolating effect of school closures on children, the impact of the cancellation of exams and the stress of upcoming school transitions.
Read more lockdown experiences around education below.
“The educational gap that has been steadily closing over the last 20 years has widened again. Children with parents who can and will, will have progress whilst those who can’t and/or won’t will have fallen behind and will take longer to settle back into school routine.”
Woman, 60s, London
People responding to our survey were aware of wide variation in the extent to which schools were delivering online learning during lockdown. They also commented on variations in quality. Some parents said that schools were relying on worksheets to be completed by pupils, instead of direct teaching. Parents were also aware of a substantial difference in approach between state and private schools, with the latter often delivering a full academic curriculum. There was widespread concern by parents and others that school closures were widening the attainment gap, as a result of differential access to online learning. At the same, many respondents commented that teachers are doing a great job in very difficult circumstances. Some respondents also felt that teachers had been unfairly criticised for being reluctant to return to school in June.
“I work as a teacher. I am extremely concerned about the education of our young people. For some, more often those from deprived backgrounds, education has been completely abolished. On top of that all young people have less structure in their lives, cannot fully develop socially and in some cases are missing out on nutritious meals. Keeping schools closed is enormously damaging social mobility”
Man, 20s, Scotland
“I have a 16 year old who missed sitting his GCSE’s who has been given the very odd piece of work from school to complete – so basically he’s on holiday until September when he goes back to start A levels. Private school kids it’s been business as usual so they will have had over a third of a year more schooling than state kids. Not a level playing field.”
Woman, 50s, North West
“The online learning provision is pitiful, the lack of socialisation with their peers, lack of enrichment subjects and the enormous challenges of trying to augment and provide anywhere near a good education for three children of three different ages whilst working is laughably. It really highlights to me the huge difference between the provision of state and private education. Ours are state educated…Really makes me think I need to reduce work and dedicate more time to my children.”
Woman, 40s, London
“Home schooling was a nightmare. It wasn’t schooling *at all*. It was more like homework but with volume/more. And the number of links and reading required by me to then support the ‘learning’ was too much, especially when I was working and being inundated with similar volumes/styles of emails to “do my job in these unprecedented times”!! I gave up pushing it and concentrated on minimum of reading, writing and maths. Now it’s a bit more like homework but they do it at school.”
Woman, 50s, Yorkshire & Humberside
Parents who filled in our survey reported different experiences when it came to homeschooling. As mentioned, the support provided by schools varied, and so did children’s adjustment to their new routine.
“Children do not want to learn from me, they miss the social aspect of learning with classmates, interaction with teachers etc. They miss the routine of school life, they got to an infant only school, year 2, so missing out on the transition to the junior school. We all feel in limbo, no communication from either school as to the arrangements for September.”
Woman, 50s, South East England
“Our school has been very supportive, keeping parents well up to date with all relevant information and also providing us with daily home learning tasks and regular phone calls from our child’s teacher. We have tried our best but I worry about the impact of not learning in a classroom environment; and whether we are doing enough. My son really misses seeing his teacher and class friends.”
Woman, 30s, South West
“My daughter (aged 11) has a mild visual impairment so written online lessons can be exhausting for her. We have worked with the school (which is private) to address her needs and they have been fantastic. More “live” lessons have helped. She still gets very anxious that she’s not doing what she is supposed to – but also can be easily distracted and wander off to YouTube if she doesn’t understand a lesson. This has been super stressful”
Woman, 40s, London
“Both my children have adjusted well to online learning. I think it should be used more in the future. What has been harder is them missing the social interaction of school. In future high schools in particular should be less obsessed with uniform, seeing as learning has continued in some cases with children in pyjamas! There needs to be more of an integration of home working and some online learning, to allow more flexible living and reduce unnecessary journeys.”
Female, 40s, East of England
Many people told us about the milestones children and young people had missed out on as a result of pandemic – from missing out on taking important exams, graduations and transitions between schools.
“My daughter is 16. She has had all her GCSEs cancelled. The impact has been devastating. She feels her entire schooling has been pointless. She feels her grades are unlikely to reflect on the work she had recently put in to improve on her mocks. She has seen no point in home learning and has no home learning to do. She had plans to go to college in September but is now very anxious and unsure about what route to take. Following the cancelling of her exams, her record of achievement day and prom has been cancelled.”
Woman, 40s, Wales
“My son is in year 6, he was very much looking forward to this year, he has missed out on many significant events at school. The school provides online learning but my son struggles with loneliness, he is less focused than he was on his work, he has missed his teacher, he is anxious about the world and often can feel sad. I am working full time but have tried my best to help him during the day with school work. I am very worried about him going to secondary school as I am unsure how this will be possible.”
Female, 40s, West Midlands
“One of the most important terms as you have transition days, P7 leavers parties, P7 assembly on last day with presentations, learning their leavers song, mentally getting prepared to leave the school, teaching staff and classmates that they have known for the last 7 years, classes of between 20 & 30 children a school of between 200-350 to move to a new school where there could be anywhere between 800-1800 pupils, how much of a challenge is that when they have not had any transition. My son also requires to have an enhanced transition as he is very anxious and does not have a lot of confidence but this happened either. You are going to end of with lots of children suffering serious mental health issues very soon due to the stress and anxiety this is all bringing.”
Female, 50s, Scotland
The pandemic also had a significant impact on those attending and preparing to attend university:
“Elder child’s first year at university has been disrupted to a significant extent and he has lost much of the opportunity that being a first year student offers, with no time in the summer months on campus having chosen a stand-alone campus specifically to benefit from being immersed in university life. He’ll never get that back and I am incredibly disappointed for him. He has still had to pay full fees despite receiving a much lower standard of education, which I find completely unacceptable.”
Man, 50s, South West England
“I’m applying for a masters with a work placement and am worried I won’t get my money’s worth. More than an undergrad, a masters has to be funded by me as the loan I could get from the government only covers tuition fees and I’m unable to live with my parents. So rent, bills, food and living costs have to be borrowed or earned while learning. I am worried the quality of the course will be affected and the money and effort to get there and do the course will be lost…Worried about the grad job market- already saturated but will now be more competitive than ever.”
Woman, 18-24, Yorkshire and Humber