One of the biggest changes to the lives of young people during the COVID-19 pandemic has been the closure of schools.
Children have had to adapt to remote learning, losing out on social interaction and facing the cancellation of exams that they had spent so long preparing for.
Accelerate Tutors have conducted a survey to find out exactly how the pandemic has affected the mental health of young people, according to the people who know their education best: their tutors and teachers.
Children have faced many challenges over the last year and a half; survey insights from Accelerate Tutors have found that 97% of tutors feel that the pandemic has severely affected mental health and wellbeing.
It seems that children are facing a decline in behaviour and an unwillingness to learn; one secondary school teacher in London has seen this first hand.
“I have been witness to the declining mental health and rising frustrations among the students. At key stage 3 especially, a real lack of focus and motivation to do any work has replaced once enthusiastic attitudes towards the subject.”
According to the NHS, problem behaviour and problems at school are key signs of depression in children and young adults. If children are constantly acting out, when they were once excited about the opportunity to learn, there may be a deeper issue at play.
Supply teachers have noticed that, especially in senior schools, the “boundaries have been relaxed because of COVID-19, for example, no detention”. Teachers no longer have the capability to notice when children are acting out and to provide sufficient support when needed.
With around 150,000 deaths from COVID in the UK at the time of writing, not only have children faced disruption to their normal lives, but they’ve quite possibly lost a loved one during this period too. With limited social interaction due to the closures of schools and a smaller support network, children may not have been able to process this loss.
Tutors have also picked up on this: “children are experiencing more psychological and emotional stress as the people who support them are going through a similar experience. Therefore, children have lost their structure and familiar support structure.”
It’s clear that tutors feel that there is a large disparity between children from families with a higher income and those with a lower income. “Too many children do not have appropriate access to technology to engage in online learning. This has left too many children almost a whole year without stable education”.
It’s been discussed that not all children have been put in equal stead in order to perform well academically. “The pandemic has highlighted the huge disparity that exists among ethnic groups and children below the poverty line.”
An estimated 9% of families in the UK do not have a laptop, desktop or tablet at home, which puts them at an extreme disadvantage when it comes to online learning.
It also seems that children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are facing challenges when it comes to parental availability, especially when compared to those whose parents have the freedom to help support their children with their home education.
“Some [students] are completely out of the habit of learning, whilst others have been on excellent online learning programmes, so may even be ahead of the game.” Tutors are left asking: how can we expect children to be able to cope with this amount of pressure, without appropriate support?
A study conducted in the Netherlands found that “children learned ‘little or nothing’ during school closures, despite online learning”. The researchers at Oxford’s Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science worry that their findings may be even more severe in the UK.
There is also cause for concern surrounding the mental health of children who were at a disadvantage pre-pandemic, with one tutor saying that “the most noticeable behaviour change in students since the first lockdown is the decline in behaviour and engagement, but especially in those who already had barriers to learning.”
There is a common feeling that “parents have lost faith in school” and that they are “becoming much more anxious and passing their worries onto their children”. This in turn “puts further strain on teachers as they are coping with the needs of children and parents too”.
Tutors feel that parents weren’t prepared to educate their children from home, with “many parents lacking general education and pedagogical knowledge. That lack in itself adds pressure on the children’s mental wellbeing by increasing their level of low self-confidence.”
Children may not feel confident when they compare themselves to their peers who have better access to resources and maybe ahead of them academically, giving them feelings of inadequacy.
Parents have other responsibilities and are often not well equipped to school children and “some families cannot afford private tutors”.
One tutor said that “most of [their] time outside teaching is now spent dealing with parental issues”, which raises the question for tutors - how can we expect children to be able to cope when their parents can’t?
Though parents have done their best, there is no doubt a cause for concern in relation to the mental health of both children and their parents.
It’s clear that the pandemic has had a huge impact on the wellbeing of children and pupils, which - in turn - has negatively affected their attitudes towards education and their education itself. Only time will tell the true impact of the pandemic on children and young people’s education, and its lasting effects.
If you’re worried about your child, take a read of our blog post to see how a tutor could help boost your child’s mental health.