Huge impact of Covid on Suffolk students revealed

Should the education change to offer a wider variety of subjects? Picture: Getty Images/i

Covid has had a huge impact on students in Suffolk schools - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Stunted maturity, anxiety and eating disorders have been suffered by Suffolk schoolchildren because of the Covid-19 disruption to education, school leaders have said.

Studying at home, isolated from their peers, has left many two years behind in their social growth, maturity and behaviour.

One Ipswich headteacher said it was the hardest time she had encountered in three decades in the industry.

During the peak of the Covid-19 lockdowns in 2020 and 2021, thousands of pupils were studying at home with only vulnerable children and those of key workers being taught in school.

Suffolk County Council’s education scrutiny committee heard sector bosses describe the challenges youngsters and school staff were encountering as they attempted to get school learning back to normal.

Head teacher of Northgate High School, Rowena Mackie Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Head teacher of Northgate High School, Rowena Mackie - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Rowena Mackie, headteacher at Northgate High School, Ipswich, said: “Our young people have lost out enormously through two school closures. They have missed nine months in the last two years really.

“Their level of maturity has been stunted to a certain degree. So, for example, I will look at some students in Year 11 who we would expect to be role models in our school with really positive behaviours and they are still behaving in lots of ways like Year 9 students.

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“That is not to blame the child, it is just to say that period of social isolation and being in those good routines, learning how to behave with each other as they grow and mature, they have lost that.”

The mental health impacts of the pandemic were also highlighted, with Miss Mackie explaining that schools did not have the resources or specialist provision to meet all the needs of children badly affected by the pandemic.

“Staff simply do not have the time to be mental health workers,” she said, adding: “I have been in education for thirty years and it has never, ever been harder.”

The committee also received a report from a meeting of senior secondary school heads in the north of the county.

It said: “Schools are reporting increased numbers of children with eating disorders and anxiety, with little resilience and interest in school.

“Increasingly lockdowns, bubbles, class isolation, and staff illness and isolations have undermined good attendance.

“Children are often calling home in the middle of the school day and parents are not discouraging this – if anything, the contrary. Teachers are feeling very vulnerable and there has been a shift in the relationship between home and school.

“Connections between schools has been lost over the period. They miss the opportunity to mix with each other and services to discuss possible solutions for issues they are dealing with. They would appreciate more transparency in the system.”

Maria Hough from the whole school inclusion team at Suffolk County Council

Maria Hough from the whole school inclusion team speaking at Suffolk County Council's education and children's services scrutiny committee meeting - Credit: Suffolk County Council

Council education officers said they recognised the pressures schools and school staff were under in not only getting uninterrupted education back on track, but also the legacies of the last two years such as youngsters presenting with anxiety or mental health concerns, and children being behind in their learning.

Maria Hough, deputy headteacher of the specialist education services in the inclusion services team, said: “What I am hearing from school leaders is this real desperate urge, need, want, desire to really meet those needs.”

She said teachers faced competing demands such as “who has caught up with that bit of geography and who hasn’t, what cover are you going to be doing, are you going to be doing PE and music cover as well as your geography lesson today?”

She added: “Those kind of pressures, as well as children who are really struggling with what has happened to them over the past two years, has created a very difficult space in our schools. One of the things that happens as a result of that is children’s behaviours can escalate very quickly.”

The Government launched the National Tutoring Programme, now in its second year, to help youngsters most disrupted during the pandemic to access targeted support.

Schools have also put in place their own individual measures to help pupils such as developing resources for pupils outside of school hours or mental health access in schools.