Weighing the long lasting impact of children missing out on school due to coronavirus – what research has to say

Closing schools during a pandemic comes with a heavy price for children’s life-long earning power, their well-being and the health of the economy, and keeping them open safely must now be the priority.

School closures should be guided by local conditions in the future, suggests study.
School closures should be guided by local conditions in the future, suggests study.

The amount of time that children have already missed out on school due to the pandemic could reduce their earning potential by around three per cent a year throughout their lives and impact on the UK’s productivity for decades, according to a new report.

Balancing the risks of pupils returning to schools, a study carried out by Data Evaluation and Learning for Viral Epidemics (DELVE), a multi-disciplinary group convened by the Royal Society,highlights the potential impact on the 13 year groups of students who have been affected by the lockdown. 

Without action, from the mid-2030s for the 50 years following that, an estimated quarter of the entire workforce could have lower skills, it claims. 

Apart from the long-term economic consequences of school closures, there will be a significant toll on children’s safety and mental and physical health.

Shutting down schools will also potentially most affect children from lower socio-economic groups and with other vulnerabilities, such as a pre-existing mental health condition.

Professor Anna Vignoles, Professor of Education, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge and a lead author of the report, said: ‘Children from low income households in particular are more likely to lack the resources (space, equipment, home support) to engage fully with remote schooling.

‘Those with pre-existing conditions are more likely to experience a worsening of their mental health. This has to be taken into account in how we come out of this pandemic.’

The report assesses the difficulties of balancing the significant costs to pupils and parents of school closures against the need to minimise the risk of COVID-19 infection of children, teachers and the wider community.

It concludes that the risk of restarting schools is not as high relative to many other activities, while recognising that the evidence on the infection risk from school opening is still limited.

One challenge highlighted is the lack of data. It calls for a system, including surveillance studies, to be put in place to increase an understanding of the risks and provide education decision-makers with the relevant data they need to monitor neighbourhood and school infection rates, and to respond accordingly. 

When infection rates rise in some locations, schools may need to close but such decisions should be determined by objective criteria and made on a school by school or local area basis, says the report. 

Implementing an effective surveillance, with a test-and-trace-isolate system could enable a rapid response to outbreaks and allow schools to re-open more quickly.

There is also a call for a programme of anonymous assessment of education achievement and pupil mental health across all age ranges in a sample of schools in mid-September, to gauge the extent and nature of the learning loss and the impact on pupil well-being. 

 Read the report and its key recommendations here






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