The past year has had a huge impact on everyone across the country. Spare a thought for our youngest members of society - the infants who have missed out on socialisation opportunities. This blog post examines the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on the youngest learners and explores how free schools can support their transitions into school for the start of the 2021/2022 academic year.
During the first lockdown the vast majority of four year olds were kept at home and “managed” while parents and carers worked, leading to a substantial disparity in how children spent their time. While some children read books with parents and experienced enrichment activities outdoors, the development gap between disadvantaged children and their peers widened. A wide range of factors caused the gap to grow: access to basic resources and technology, parents’ attitudes and knowledge of early development, flexibility of parent employers and sibling presence.
The YouGov Kindred2 – School Readiness report found that after the first lockdown 46% of children arrived at reception in 2020 without basic capabilities to start school, including: using the toilet, listening, sharing and responding to questions. Teachers estimated that they had spent 195 hours supporting children to develop skills which, in normal years, they would have arrived with – therefore taking time away from teaching an age-appropriate curriculum.
For thousands of children, development stagnation has led to emotional distress, social isolation and classroom disruption. Staff are reporting lower levels of morale and greater levels of stress, with many using their time before and after school, as well as their lunch breaks to support these children. The inability of teachers to form supportive relationships with parents and communicate expectations has only exacerbated these issues.
While it is widely recognised that negative early school experiences can stay with children throughout their life - potentially impacting self-esteem - at this point we don’t know the longer term impact of COVID-19 restrictions on child development and life chances.
Fortunately, newly opened or opening free schools are in an excellent position to support children in reception or coming up into year one who have been affected by the pandemic. The focus can be wholly on these year groups with every resource dedicated to supporting these young children to settle into their new class and address the effects of the last year.
While we don’t have full clarity on what the next six months will hold, with regard to restrictions, transitions plans can be put in place for all eventualities, including:
- Interactive virtual settling in sessions where children can meet their peers and teachers and get to know their classroom and the wider school.
- A variety of methods used to communicate expectations for parents and additional support to help parents understand how to prepare their child to be ready for school.
- Resources sent home to aid transition, e.g. stories and songs which can later be sung in class
- A range of opportunities to forge relationships with parents, e.g. virtual drop in sessions, doorstep visits or coffee mornings.
- Adapting the curriculum plans and school day to make allowances for a high proportion of children not being school ready and having structures already in place to support those children and parents who need it most.
We’ve offered a number of suggestions on how you can support pupils in this blog post, but if you need additional support, please don’t hesitate to get in contact with a member from our team.