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Publication Detail
Mitigating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on primary and lower secondary children during school closures
Abstract
Background: To control the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus during the COVID-19 pandemic, UK schools were closed and education activity was undertaken at home resulting in considerable disruption to children’s education. Aims: To identify and assess evidence of harms caused to primary and lower secondary pupils during this time and identify mitigation strategies relevant to those harms. Methods: A rapid evidence review tailored to delivery at pace, drawing on UK evidence for harms and relevant mitigation strategies. Findings on harms: There is evidence that the patterns of disruption to education during the pandemic have impacted on children’s learning and attainment, mental health and wellbeing, physical health and nutrition and increased exposure to risk especially for those children living in potentially dangerous domestic settings. Although the quality of the evidence is uneven, it is clear that children living in poverty have been most affected, in particular through food insecurity and conditions triggering stress and anxiety in the home, alongside their more limited opportunities to access digital resources for learning, or indeed outside space for physical activity. Attempts to distinguish harms that impact in the short term from longer lasting harms may take time. It also requires schools to have access to contextually relevant diagnostic tools they can use to assess the range of harms in need of redress in their local context. Findings on mitigation strategies: We found no evidence for mitigation strategies directly relevant to the harms experienced by children due to school closures under COVID-19. Mitigation strategies suggested in the UK often derived their evidence of efficacy from circumstances quite unlike the prolonged patterns of disruption to education that COVID has caused. Most were designed to address the needs of a few pupils struggling under normal circumstances and were not able to demonstrate their relevance at scale. We therefore examined the primary literature on recovery from unplanned school closures in other countries focused on school-based strategies that had been evaluated as effective under similar conditions. Conclusion: We found some evidence of a range of harms but little research evidence on relevant mitigation strategies and an absence of evidence on those strategies that schools themselves have adopted since re-opening, tailored to local needs. Such mitigation strategies may be highly relevant for system learning, and it is important to document and evaluate their efficacy, and indeed learn from them. Closing schools during the pandemic has revealed the importance of schools in safeguarding children. School staff should be given the training and resources to be able to identify children at risk and refer pupils to appropriate services if necessary.
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