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Getting the balance right between work and play

By Sarah Harris

The scale of pupils’ learning loss has hugely concerned teachers, parents and politicians alike following school closures due to Covid-19. Staff across the country have worked hard to help children settle back into class and catch up where they’ve fallen behind now that face-to-face lessons have resumed.

An Education Endowment Foundation report published earlier this month suggests this remains challenging. The attainment gap between poorer primary school pupils and their more affluent peers has grown in maths by an extra month since the start of the pandemic.

And in the private sector, families remain fearful about potential learning loss. Just over half (52 per cent) of parents and grandparents surveyed by the Independent Association of Prep Schools (IAPS) believe their child or grandchild has fallen behind since the first lockdown. Its recent poll of more than 1,000 parents and grandparents of three to 13-year-olds in the UK, suggests that 44 per cent have invested more money in the education of their child or grandchild in the last 12 months. Amongst these, nearly one in four (23 per cent) said they have paid for professional tutoring.

However, Christopher King, chief executive of IAPS, believes there has been a “significant” and “widespread” shift since the early days of the first lockdown, away from concern about keeping up with the curriculum, towards a focus on children’s general well-being. Many youngsters are having to relearn social skills at school such as how to play nicely with classmates, take turns and co-operate in a group.

Mr King said: ‘I think there’s been perhaps more of a deficit in learning skills experience than actually knowledge acquisition. Online learning has gone very well in our schools but it’s very difficult to replicate things like teamwork, co-operating with your peers, tolerance, and being around other people of the same age and those that are older and younger.’

State primaries and private prep schools are attempting to get the balance right between ensuring youngsters reach the correct level of academic attainment – and simply giving them ample opportunities to play again.

Playtime at school has never been more important as youngsters may have reduced chances for activities at home. The British Children’s Play Survey recently revealed that young children are typically not allowed to play outside on their own until the age of 11 – two years later than their parents’ generation.

Mr King says there is a current “emphasis” and “priority’ among IAPS schools in terms of giving children “a bit more space to build their own individual and collective self-confidence”.

Only time will tell what the long-term effects of the pandemic have been on children’s social skills, mental health and well-being – as well as their academic studies. In the meantime, the IAPS will shortly launch a major research project into well-being to identify the scale of the issue and what support is needed for pupils and also teachers. Hopefully, this will reassure parents – and help pupils who have suffered during the past 12 months get back on the road to recovery.

Sarah Harris is a freelance education journalist who regularly writes for the national press. She is a former education correspondent at the Daily Mail.

(Photo credit: Brambletye School)

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