Teachers in England face ‘epidemic’ of demotivation in lockdown children

Extending school day to make up for lost learning ‘will only work if not seen as punishment’

Children have suffered “an epidemic” of demotivation while out of the classroom during coronavirus lockdowns, according to the chief inspector of schools in England, who warned against punishing children by shortening their holidays in an attempt to help them catch up.

Amanda Spielman, the head of Ofsted, told headteachers that a “significant minority of children just haven’t been engaging” when their teaching moved online as schools remained closed to most children from the start of the year.

“With the best will in the world, schools haven’t been able to avert an epidemic of demotivated children. Heads have told us that even the hardest-working pupils lost enthusiasm as time went on.

“Remote education requires great self-discipline – and that’s something that home-working adults struggle with, let alone children,” Spielman said.

Speaking to the national conference of the Association of School and College Leaders, Spielman cast doubt on extending schooling into the weekends or summer holidays to allow pupils to catch up on lost learning, saying that such extensions risked making matters worse.

She said she believed that “extensions to schooling will work well only if they’re supported by families so that they don’t feel like a punishment” for both children and parents.

Ministers, including the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, have said they are looking at a wide range of proposals in the wake of the Covid closures, including a five-term school year and changes to summer holidays.

But Spielman said: “Parents know that after a year of heavy restrictions children need time with their grandparents, with their friends, to get out of the house and enjoy themselves again. These are things that will help them learn well in school.

“So we really need to work with the grain. Without parental support the children who most need help may simply not turn up. Or if they have to stay longer in the classroom they may switch off and then the extra time could be wasted. That risks widening gaps, not closing them.”

Spielman said that while accelerating children’s progress was “a national priority,” it was clear “that for most children, getting back on track will happen through lessons in their normal classrooms, with their normal teachers”.

Schools will need to make “tough decisions” about what to prioritise and what to leave out of the curriculum.

“Pupils and learners won’t benefit from racing through subjects at pace, so that everything is covered to some degree but little is covered well,” Spielman said.

“This really is about schools and colleges making intelligent choices, not just cramming everything in.”


Richard Adams, Education editor

The GuardianTramp

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