Covid-19: School closures have had impact on children’s development

Education / Mon 4th Apr 2022 at 03:29pm

SCHOOL closures during lockdown have impacted the development of young children in schools and nurseries and left them struggling to ‘take turns’ and ‘interpret facial expressions’, it has emerged. reports the Daily Mail.

Covid restrictions have delayed children’s’ readiness for primary school because they were not able to socialise with others and spent less time in early education where they learn skills to ‘develop their independence’.

A report by Ofsted found that babies and toddlers struggled with toilet training, tying their shoelaces, taking their coat on and off, and hanging it up in a cloakroom.

Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s chief inspector of schools, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We found a number of concerning things – still knock on from the pandemic and lockdown more generally.

‘We found delays in young people’s speech and language, we found some of the younger children were having difficulty interpreting facial expressions, which hinders them developing social interactions and social confidence.

‘We found children were less good at taking turns and sharing and self-care skills, all the things children need to learn to look after themselves and develop their independence – those also are somewhat delayed for many children. This obviously has a big knock on into their readiness for school.’ 

The report also revealed that young children are mimicking the voices of characters in movies and TV programmes due to the long hours spent on screens amid Covid lockdowns. 

Inspectors found youngsters are suffering delays in speech and language as they have missed out on ‘stories, singing and having conversations’. 

Fewer have learned to use the toilet independently, which means more children may not be ready for school by age four, while others find it hard to put on coats and blow their noses.

Meanwhile, some babies are struggling to ‘respond to basic facial expressions’. They are ‘particularly anxious and not used to seeing different faces’.

The findings will renew fears about the damage caused to children’s development following repeated lockdowns.

Ofsted has today published reports into the pandemic’s impact on different education settings, using evidence from 280 inspections and multiple focus groups.

The watchdog’s chief inspector also revealed that income played a vital role in children’s development and exercise as during the lockdowns, many young people wouldn’t have had access to a garden to exercise.

She added: ‘In the physical limitations of lockdown, the smaller your household, or if you lived in a flat and if you didn’t have a garden, those children were significantly more constrained in their opportunities to exercise than children who lived in houses with big gardens.

‘We know that there have been differential effects and how important it is that we particularly put the effort into the children who’ve had the worst experience over the last few years to help them get where they need to (be).’

Outlining why parents should be taking up funded nursey places, she added: ‘Early education has many benefits for young children and, probably for a variety of reason, many parents are making less use of early education services at the moment.

‘I hope that’s something that we will see reverse because I think we really can see from this natural experiment, of having had two years when many children have missed so much, quite what it’s done. We really need to value it.’

The chief inspector of Ofsted has said ‘basic parenting’ is more important than delaying children’s entry to school.

Amanda Spielman made the comments after it was found that some babies are struggling to understand facial expressions following the pandemic.

Asked if parents should delay sending their children to school, she said: ‘What’s more important, I think, is to make sure that these very basic things (are being done

‘Parents and families can spend time making sure they talk a lot to their children, give them those opportunities to take turns, whether there are other children to play with, (making sure) they’ve had exposure to other children and that they get out, they get out to the park, they get out for walks, they get out to go to the shops, they have exercise.

‘Those really basic parenting things are probably more important than delaying their entry to school.’

Ms Spielman also said there has been ‘lots of really good work’ across early years, schools and further education this term, but ‘lingering challenges’ remain.

She said: ‘I’m particularly worried about younger children’s development, which, if left unaddressed, could potentially cause problems for primary schools down the line.’ In the early years, the watchdog analysed inspections of 70 childminders and nurseries between January and February.’

The briefing document says many providers reported continuing delays in babies’ and children’s speech and language progress. 

he report says: ‘For example, some have noticed that children have limited vocabulary or lack the confidence to speak. 

‘Also, some babies have struggled to respond to basic facial expressions, which may be due to reduced contact and interaction with others during the pandemic.

‘Children have missed out on hearing stories, singing and having conversations.

‘One provider commented that children appear to have spent more time on screens and have started to speak in accents and voices that resemble the material they have watched.’ Staff felt that wearing face coverings continued to have a ‘negative impact’ on youngsters’ language skills.

‘Children turning two years old will have been surrounded by adults wearing masks for their whole lives and have therefore been unable to see lip movements or mouth shapes as regularly,’ the report says.

The early years document highlights a ‘regression in children’s independence and self-care skills’.

It says: ‘For example, more children needed help putting on their coat and blowing their nose.

‘An increasing number of providers were concerned that fewer children have learned to use the toilet independently. This means that more children may not be ready for school by age four.’

Helen Porter, Headteacher at Kings Forest Primary school, Kingswood in Bristol also told the BBC: ‘We have to remember it wasn’t just the lockdowns, it was the class closures and the disruption in terms of children having to isolate. The amount of time children have lost in school has been vast.

‘We’re social animals, we learn in a social way. For very very young children, not being able to explore and have those play experiences has had a huge impact. Many children in our nurseries didn’t know what I looked like without a face mask.’

Nursery workers and childminders also reported delays in babies’ physical development in terms of learning to crawl and walk.

Those starting in settings since the pandemic ‘have high levels of anxiety and are having to get used to seeing different people’.

Last July, it was revealed that US children were watching so much of the British cartoon, Peppa Pig, they were developing English accents.

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