Children from all different socioeconomic backgrounds and ages are struggling to stay motivated with their schoolwork following months of disruption to learning, the Ofsted chief inspector has warned.
Amanda Spielman, head of England’s schools watchdog, said it is not only poorer pupils who are facing “educational problems” amid the pandemic, as she said many children’s motivation is “really flagging”.
The latest switch to remote learning – the second move in less than a year – is likely to cause issues with pupils’ academic progress, as well as their physical and mental health, the Ofsted boss suggested.
Ms Spielman told the PA news agency: “A big slice of children who are struggling, it’s nothing to do with them having a marker of disadvantage.
“I’d really like to help people recognise that the problems coming out of lockdown for children are much, much broader than just for certain socioeconomic groups and special educational needs.”
Social mobility experts and heads have warned that disadvantaged children are likely to fall further behind amid Covid-19 – and concerns about their access to laptops and food have become more prevalent.
Ms Spielman said it is not only pupils eligible for free school meals, or children with special education needs and disabilities (SEND), who are struggling due to lengthy periods of remote education.
The chief inspector told PA: “There is a really important point here that educational problems are not just about disadvantaged children.
“The message about motivation is coming right across the spectrum of advantage and disadvantage, as well as across the age groups.
“Children who, for whatever reason, haven’t got high motivation are everywhere at all ability levels and some very high-achieving children are struggling with motivation. Some children from very affluent families are struggling with motivation.”
The comments come ahead of the anniversary of the first known coronavirus death in the UK.
The impact on pupils’ academic attainment following months out of the classroom is not the only concern. Education professionals are worried about the effect on children’s social and emotional skills.
“We know that the isolation for many children is really problematic,” Ms Spielman said.
Simon Kidwell, headteacher of Hartford Manor Primary School in Cheshire, said some of the younger children were not talking to each other when they came back to school after closures last year.
He told PA: “It just seemed strange to see children playing on their own and not interacting.”
Children fell behind with their reading and some pupils’ behaviour was “quite challenging”.
Mr Kidwell added: “They weren’t used to interacting and playing, so we had to do a lot of work supporting the children at play times and getting them back to socialising and behaving as well as we know they can.
“They got there but I was absolutely gutted when we went into lockdown for the second time.”
Michelle Sheehy, headteacher of Millfield primary school in Walsall, said pupils who came back to school in September after closures wanted to check everything they were doing was okay with school staff.
She told PA: “I suppose it’s just anxiety and that’s probably been passed to them from adults, but that was the biggest issue for me. Their loss of independence and their worry about what they were doing.”
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “It’s difficult to get past the idea that young people have been robbed of a precious year of development and activity. And, of course, the kids who were struggling before the pandemic are the ones that we are the most worried about.
“The truth is we probably won’t know exactly how the pandemic has affected pupils for a few years yet.
“Different children will experience different positive and negative effects.
“It doesn’t necessarily follow that all the positives will be the domain of privileged children and all the negatives will be the outcome for disadvantaged pupils.”