Published in: The Herald Scotland
Written by: David Bol
ALMOST three quarters of disadvantaged and care-experienced Scottish pupils have been unable to do any school work during the lockdown, a new study has revealed.
The research by mentoring charity, MCR Pathways, also reveals that more than 40 per cent of pupils asked said they had been too stressed to do any school work and one in four warned that they had other caring responsibilities that took priority.
The survey, which questioned more than 1,300 care-experienced and disadvantaged secondary school pupils across all parts of Scotland, has been published as the Scottish Government’s Cabinet will today decide whether or not to press ahead with plans for schools to re-open full time from August 11.
Union leaders have warned that the findings illustrate that more school staff will be needed to allow education leaders to “focus on providing nurturing support to young people” and help them “overcome the level of trauma they are facing”.
Ministers will decide whether to re-open schools as planned at a meeting today, but parents and schools will not be informed of the decision until Nicola Sturgeon makes an announcement at Holyrood tomorrow.
The MCR study found that two thirds of disadvantaged young people were feeling low, anxious and stressed during the lockdown – while almost 90 per cent of those asked said their sleeping patterns have dramatically changed and more than 25 per cent said they had experienced significantly disturbed sleep
The research, carried out over six weeks in June and July, found that 81 per cent of those asked were most concerned with the difficulties around getting back into a routine when schools do re-open. The study found that 60 per cent are concerned about catching Covid-19 at school and passing it on to family members – while 82 per cent of disadvantaged and care-experienced pupils that took part want extra support through one-to-one time with teachers.
Founder of MCR Pathways, Iain MacRitchie, said the feedback from disadvantaged pupils was “crystal clear”.
He said: “The loss of education has been compounded by the profound impact on mental wellbeing, confidence and self-belief. “To avoid losing a generation and further fuelling the attainment crisis, we need to listen very closely to the young people and do what they need us to do.”
Mr MacRitchie pointed to the importance of printed materials on the ability of young people to learn from home – with almost half those asked insisting they would want them as part of home learning plans in the event of a second lockdown.
He added: “Twenty per cent of our most disadvantaged don’t have the space at home to work, and 15 per cent still don’t have the IT kit or internet access. Many are trying unsuccessfully to learn using only their phones.
“This all culminates in our most disadvantaged, despite being keen to engage in learning, facing multiple and continuous barriers preventing them. We must not allow the increasing inequality and a rapidly widening attainment gap to continue.”
Mr MacRitchie said that hearing young people say they have “lost all social interaction abilities” during the lockdown has been “heartbreaking”.
He added: “Schools are not just for education, they are safe havens, community hubs and where hope and aspiration is nurtured.
“If there is a second lockdown, we must find a way and alternative buildings if necessary to continue full time education for those that need it most.”
EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan has warned politicians that more funding will be needed if vulnerable pupils are to be supported properly.
He said: “Supporting pupils’ educational recovery and emotional wellbeing will be extremely important once schools return after the summer.
“Young people have experienced major difficulties, not only with falling behind in their learning but also growing seclusion and enforced separation from friends.”
He added: “We need to focus on providing nurturing support for young people to help them overcome the level of trauma they are facing – and we will need additional staff to achieve this.
“This is about providing an environment with appropriate resources, staffing and safety measures where young people can return to an educational and social routine that is as normal as it can be.”