Survey highlights concern over long-term impact of pandemic and school closures on children

Survey responses in the latest Barnardos annual Back to School Survey have shown that, while children are largely looking forward to returning to school in September, the majority of parents have concerns about their children’s educational, emotional, and social development.

In addition, the survey results from 1,473 parents and 121 children and young people, which took place during June and July 2021, highlight the level of adversity families faced over the past 12 months, including increased mental health issues, financial concerns, isolation, and lack of social support.

"Last year our survey evolved to reflect the difficult circumstances in which parents and school pupils found themselves in the context of Covid-19," said Suzanne Connolly, CEO of Barnardos. "This year there is an additional focus on parents’ concerns about the overall development of their children, the impact of home schooling, and the adversities families as a whole faced over the past 12 months.

"Our survey found parents and children are generally feeling positive about going back to school in September. However, parents have concerns about their children’s emotional, educational, and social progress and as a result, the majority believe their children will need some form of additional support. Unfortunately, 49 per cent of parents are concerned about whether or not their children will be able to access the necessary support.

"We are calling on the Government to publish promised plans to address the additional educational support needs of children," Ms Connolly added. "Schools should be provided the autonomy and flexibility to respond effectively to the individual level of need among children in their school and determine the support required. These plans need to be communicated to parents to help ease their concerns and focus on those most impacted by the pandemic and home schooling, and those who faced educational disadvantage before lockdown."

According to this year's survey 41 per cent of children feel happy about returning to school, 17 per cent are excited, 14 per cent are worried, eight per cent are sad, and the remaining 20 percent don’t care. Some 74 percent of parents believe their children are ready to move into the next year of school. Despite this, more than 60 per cent of primary school parents and almost 70 per cent of secondary school parents said they were concerned about the educational development of their child.

Twenty three per cent of parents of primary school children and nine per cent of secondary school children said their children spent less than an hour a day learning last year. More than 30 per cent of parents stated they are concerned about children’s behaviour and their ability to follow school rules and structure when returning to the classroom. A total of 21 per cent of primary school parents and 33 per cent of secondary school parents said they were concerned their children may not want to return to school.

Sixty three per cent of parents said they were worried about their children’s emotional development, while 53 per cent of primary school parents and 64 per cent of secondary school parents were worried about anxiety. Fifty one per cent of parents stated they are concerned about their children’s social skills, while 58 per cent of secondary school parents and 47 per cent of primary school parents were concerned about their child’s loneliness.

Sixty three per cent of primary school parents and 73 per cent of secondary school parents felt that their children will need support on returning to school. Forty nine per cent are not confident that these support needs will be met on return to school.

Meanwhile, 52 per cent of parents said their families had experienced mental health difficulties over the past 12 months, 50 per cent reported tensions at home, 54 per cent experienced financial concerns, 59 per cent felt isolated, and 48 per cent stated they lacked social support. Twenty nine per cent of parents felt that these difficulties have had a negative impact on their child.

More than half of parents said they were concerned about the cost of returning to school. One third of all parents said that meeting costs this year will be made more difficult as a result of Covid. About 20 per cent of parents take out some form of loan to pay for school costs. Fifty two per cent of primary school parents and 65 per cent of secondary school parents said the costs of uniforms had increased, while 53 per cent of primary school parents and 48 per cent of secondary school parents said the cost of their child’s books had increased since last year.

 

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