New report on the impact of school closures and what to do next

Yesterday the Chartered College of Teaching has published a new review of research evidence on school closures and international approaches to education during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What are the main findings:

The impact of school closures on learning

  • Research evidence on ‘summer learning loss’ suggests that children from lower income families are usually more adversely affected by school closures during the summer holidays, and that they tend to proportionally affect older children’s academic progress more than that of younger children.
  • However, in the context of COVID-19-related school closures, both the ‘summer learning loss’ effect and the learning that is missed during school closures need to be taken into account, which may affect younger children more.
  • Families from higher socio-economic backgrounds tend to spend more on their children’s online learning in the current context and are more likely to assist children’s learning during school closures, as well as having better access to online learning.
  • School closures can have an exacerbating effect on students with mental health issues.
  • Distance learning can be effective if the teaching methods used are of high quality. This includes incorporating features such as clear explanations, scaffolding and feedback. However, potential differences between distance learning and emergency remote teaching need to be considered.
  • Evidence on distance learning during COVID-19 suggests that many students aged between 10 and 19 appear to cope well, but some spend less time
    on school work than they would normally and some students struggle both academically and emotionally. Students’ capacity to study independently, access to online learning and feeling socially connected all contribute to a more positive distance learning experience.

The impact of the wider crisis on pupils’ wellbeing and learning

  • Cognition, learning and behaviour can all be affected by grief and by exposure to stressful and traumatic circumstances.
  • Research evidence is mixed on the long-term effects of disasters. While some studies found that children were not affected two to four years later, others suggest that there are long lasting effects on socio-emotional and academic development.
  • The effect of disasters on academic performance may vary according to students’ age and the subjects being studied, but more studies are needed to strengthen these findings.
  • Socio-emotional interventions delivered by school staff can be effective, and schools can also play a key role in supporting children who have experienced bereavement or trauma.
  • A common reaction to trauma is emotional and social isolation. Other symptoms can include re-experiencing, avoidance and hyperarousal.

The effect on teachers

  • Teachers are subject to the challenges faced by the general population during lockdown, including in many cases managing work and family/caring responsibilities simultaneously, but are also subject to additional pressures because of their professional role in supporting children.
  • Teachers often do not have adequate training and guidance in order to support and respond to student’s socio-emotional needs following traumatic events.
  • School staff can experience secondary traumatic stress from working with traumatised individuals and this can affect their own mental health. Peer and professional support can help teachers to cope in such circumstances.

School closures and approaches to reopening during the COVID-19 outbreak

  • The effectiveness of school closures as a measure to stem outbreaks depends on the length of the closure, when the closure and reopening take place, how transmissible the disease is and to what degree it affects children. They appear to be most effective when combined with other social distancing measures.
  • Although COVID-19 appears to generally affect children’s health less than adults and they may be less likely to contract the virus, less is known about children’s role in community spread. Recent data suggests that children might be as infectious as adults. The potential risks to students and teachers therefore need to be taken into account when planning school reopenings, including age-related differences in children’s ability to understand and comply with social distancing measures.
  • Countries are varying in their approaches to school reopenings, but staggered returns tend to be favoured so as to limit the number of students on campus at any given time. Some of the most affected countries in Europe (e.g. Italy and Spain) have decided not to reopen schools for the general population before September.

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