Catch up on learning? We need to catch up on living!

The focus on ‘catching up’ on lost learning during the pandemic places unnecessary psychological pressure on children and young people

The British Psychological Society is urging the government to reconsider its emphasis on the idea that children and young people need to ‘catch up’ on their education, and that supporting the wellbeing and educational needs of all children should be a priority.

Psychologists are concerned that focusing on lost learning due to the Covid-19 pandemic misses the mark, particularly for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children.

With extended school days and summer schools being floated as potential solutions to address the perceived educational attainment gap created by the pandemic, educational psychologists from the British Psychological Society’s Division of Educational and Child Psychology are instead advocating for a phased return to regular schooling, combined with a quality-over-quantity approach to key learning.  Where additional school time is a strategy, it should focus on supporting children through socialisation and play.

Psychologists are also highlighting the importance of focusing on what children have learnt and achieved over the past year – thanks to the home-schooling efforts of parents and caregivers and remote-learning provision delivered by teachers and other educational professionals throughout the pandemic.

Dr Dan O’Hare, co-chair of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Educational and Child Psychology said: “It’s absolutely understandable that parents and caregivers are concerned that children have been missing out on many aspects of their formal education over the past year.

“It’s important to celebrate the progress, learning and development children have made in the last year and ensure that they feel proud of what they’ve achieved so that they can build upon their strengths and continue their key learning moving forward.  Together, parents, caregivers and teachers have done an amazing job of continuing children’s education outside the school environment, and its vital that this work isn’t diminished.”

The impact of the lockdowns on children’s wellbeing and mental health must be considered as part of the decision-making around the return to school plan.     

“Many children may have seen their families struggling with sudden unemployment, loss of earnings or grieving the death of a loved one. Vulnerable children and families from disadvantaged communities may have spent the lockdowns wondering where their next meal is going to come from, or how they’re going to keep a roof over their heads.” continued Dr O’Hare.

Research from the Education Endowment Foundation looking at the effect of extending the school day and summer schools on educational attainment, has found that these measures have a low impact but moderate associated costs, suggesting that it is not an effective way to address gaps in children’s learning created by the pandemic. Evidence also indicates that these interventions aren’t effective in meeting the needs of the vulnerable children who need support the most.

Dr O’Hare, said: “It’s also essential that this conversation doesn’t detract from the many real issues facing the most disadvantaged children that more urgently need to be addressed by the government, such as food poverty, access to green spaces, use of digital learning equipment and access to high-speed broadband. The government mustn’t lose sight of where they can make a high-impact and tangible difference to children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing, and subsequently their education.”

Daniel Martin from Huddersfield Education Hub, a private tuition company in Skelmanthorpe, had plenty to say on the issue of playing catch-up when kids return to school.

“The idea that students will have longer school days and work during the summer holidays is ridiculous for a number of reasons: Firstly, where would they get the staff from?”, said Daniel, who has 15 years of classroom experience prior to starting the tuition business.

He also feels that it is a lot to ask of children who have had to get used to a new way of working, and have spent a considerable amount of time sat in front of a screen.  He echoed the statement from the British Psychological Society, saying “As soon as they are able, we need to be pushing students into outdoor, social activities”, stressing that the government would be better off spending money on fun and educational, hands on activities outside of the classroom. 

This is made even more relevant with the Sutton Trust’s research released today, showing that pupils from low-income backgrounds are less likely to have the opportunity to take part in extracurricular activities.

Perhaps some of the £700million ‘recovery support package’ announced on Wednesday by Gavin Williamson could go towards bridging the ever-widening gap between the haves and have-nots, and ensuring every child gets the same opportunities to catch up on living, not learning, this summer.

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